New York is nothing if not resourceful.
So when the fourth largest State in the country for the sport of Track & Field came grinding to a halt this past Winter, coaches and athletes immediately began to look for ways to adapt and survive. As the guidelines became more clear, the possibilities started flowing. Quickly, the questions moved from "if," to "where"?
The conflict came from the nature of the sport in the Empire State. The majority of all facilities in use are housed on College campuses. With many of their own students attending remote, the option for HS'ers across the region all converging on a single facility was a non-starter. Past that, the three facilities that fall outside that designation, were all subject to capacity restrictions that capped them at 10%. Even still, with the location of the Armory being a key factor, it was quickly transitioned into a vaccination center. Ocean Breeze, which held meets under strict guidelines, is now in the process of transitioning to a vaccination center as well.
It was time to think outside the box.
Much has been heralded about the move to set up shop on the basement of the Palisades Mall Indoor Parking Complex. The story went viral internationally, appearing on FloTrack, Runner's World Magazine, Canadian Running, and the Wall Street Journal. The brainchild of Suffern Coaches Jeff Dempsey Steve Pashley, the 'facility' played host do over half a dozen meets, entertaining teams from across Section 1 and Section 9. But with travel limited, and the Palisades being a one-of-a-kind opportunity, the rest of the state went off to find their own opportunity.
As if the subconscious minds of Track coaches across the State worked simultaneously, many different regions flocked their local multi-use indoor turf facilities in unison. Section 2 (below), Section 3, and Section 5 were all set to make it work with the unconventional setting. Even Section 1 had one crack at the idea, utilizing the Hudson Valley Sportsdome when a weekend scheduling opportunity opened up.
"There were a lot of questions at the beginning of the Season," said Norm Deep, the Indoor Coach at Clinton High School, also an Assistant Coordinator at the Sectional Level. "As it became apparent we couldn't have the sport at the High School level with the closing of both Onondaga Community College and the Utica Indoor Bubble, we began to look and see if youth meets were the answer."
The weather is uncooperative at best during the Winter months of Central New York, uninhabitable at worst. While the southern sections on Long Island could entertain the idea of Polar Bear meets (Outdoor Meets contested with the traditional Indoor Distances), a facility was needed to brave the elements upstate.
"We managed to secure the Rising Stars' Sports Center in Westmoreland, after looking at different options across the region. Many were booked up by the ball sports. Rising Stars were able to make it work for us, but we still had to abide by the same capacity restrictions as the mega-arenas. It became apparent we had to focus in on just the High School community."
Deep wears many hats in the Track and Field community. He also serves as the High School coordinator for the Syracuse Chargers Track Club. With the support of the organization, he created the Chargers Club Indoor Series, which included four meets throughout January and February. All told, the series served 12 local High Schools, alongside athletes from both the Albany and Binghamton areas. At one point, both State Leaders in the High Jump originated from his meets, despite the takeoff platform being a turf field.
Those sort of adaptations were par for the course. With the turf fields being suited more to Indoor Soccer than Indoor Track, distances were measured out in cones rather than lanes. Deep hosted both the 45m dash as well as the 40yd dash, allowing Football players in the off-season train for their own unorthodox upcoming Fall II Season. Back at the Palisades, we saw the first ever 4x300m relay, one lap around the 300m oval coned out between the pillars and parking spaces.
And then there were some who were benefited by the more traditional.
In Section 5, after preliminary reluctance from local AD's, the need for normalcy ultimately won out. Enter the Pinnacle Athletic Campus in Victor, NY. With a combined 6 total turfs typically reserved for Soccer and Volleyball, the facility was transitioned into a full size, albeit coned off, indoor track. That made for the opportunity to run the traditional distances, and see plenty of new names emerge.
Hilton's Dontae Valion was a breakout star for the unusual facility. Despite being a Senior, this was his first Season as a Track & Field athlete, after a long career on the Football field. He clocked a 6.54 FAT mark on the turf field, which gave him a qualifying mark for the Ocean Breeze Elite Invite. There, his first time on a banked track, let alone an actual track, he lowered his mark to a NY #2 of 6.45. Not bad for turf training.
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It's that kind of meteoric rise that will be one of the lasting legacies of the 2020 pandemic. The 2021 Spring Track Season will be limited in scope, but the 2022 athletic year is showing true promise to a return to normalcy. And with it, we'll be greeted with Senior athletes who have not contested a high level Invitational since their Freshman year. The sport will be rejuvenated with brand new faces to the spotlight, and the competition will return to fast times on fast tracks. As always, Track finds a way.