OPINION: Monroeville track project off and running
May 2—The times are certainly changing.
A large group of people gathered Saturday morning for the ground-breaking event of the new Monroeville track and field project.
Located on Ridge Street, plans are to have the first official track meet in the spring of 2024.
What was it like competing at the old track next to the school?
Jim Maitland, a 1961 MHS graduate, shared his memories.
"Monroeville track was not a quarter mile," he said. "We had home meets with the track measured accordingly and did not have the luxury of having pads for the high jump or pole vault. We landed in sawdust, and the higher we jumped — the bigger the thud.
"There were two tennis courts by the school and that is where the high jump was," Maitland added. "The long jump in those days was called the broad jump — the name was changed for obvious reasons. We all shared track shoes for competing. I believe that Norb Perry and I are the oldest living state track participants, which was the spring of 1961."
Monroeville Local Schools Superintendent Kristin Kaple-Jones said this track is not just for the school, but the entire community.
"We had a great turnout," she said. "I was excited to see that many people in the cold and wind. A lot of excitement for our community."
What does this all mean?
"It is a realization of a vision and dream from a long time ago when the school purchased that land," Kaple-Jones said. "The realization of a lot of planning and dreaming ... and now we are here."
"We just keep working," she said. "I know our volunteers are out almost nightly working out there. We are seeing great progress on the track. We are looking to do the ribbon-cutting in 2024."
My wife Jody and I lived in Monroeville from 1982-85. I remember covering a couple of track meets at that time, and all of the hurdles (pun intended) they had to jump just to have a meet.
There were only a couple of lanes. If you ran in the third lane, you might run into the corner of the school building around the second turn. I think that is where they put the St. Paul runners.
"It's still there," Kaple-Jones said about the track with a laugh. "You ran out of room."
Bill Scott was the track coach from 1976-86.
"One of the memories of the old track was getting the weeds out around the track with parent help," he said. "This helped make us become very close as a family. Three lanes was always a challenge with the shop wing sticking out. We were able to get six lanes on the straight-aways.
"We did our best to run a home track meet, but I'm sure the other schools didn't like it with only three lanes and a building sticking out."
It's been about 30 years since Monroeville has hosted a track meet.
That will change next year.
"We are eternally grateful to Fisher-Titus and all of our donors," Kaple-Jones said. "We are still taking donations. You can buy a brick or send in a donation to our boosters."
Kaple-Jones said once the grass has time to take seed and grow in, the football team will use the infield for practice.
"Not until at least another year," she said.
Monroeville High School Athletic Director Ben Paul put it simply: "There is no place like Monroeville."
"I think one of the things about this track project is it is the last piece — the one thing we do not offer our athletes," Paul said. "The MAC was a community group. Clark Park (baseball and softball) was a community group. This has been a partnership between the school and community and Fisher-Titus. ... A larger group of people coming together.
"This just does not benefit the students and school," he added. "It will benefit the community. We have a lot of residents who like to walk year-round, and this will give them a place to walk."
For Paul, who didn't grow up in Monroeville, the project solidifies how the community comes together to make things happen.
"I haven't been in a lot of communities, but of all the communities I have been in, there is no place like Monroeville," he said. "I cannot think of a time when people were called on to help and they refused. This makes me very proud to be part of this school and community."
Joe Centers is Reflector community editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.