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Writer  /  Julie Engelhardt

A new school year always means new changes — not only for the students but often for the school itself. Such is the case with Eastern High School.

For years, the track area has been in disrepair with cracks and potholes that have grown larger with each passing season. This has caused the track and cross country teams to move away from their home turf and either train or compete elsewhere in Louisville. But thanks to a contingency of hard-working parents, coaches, athletes, businesses and supporters, the school will finally have a pristine new track.

The Eastern track and cross country teams aren’t the only ones who use the facility. Other athletic programs at Eastern use the track for conditioning and training. Area elementary and middle schools also use it for the same purposes.

Head track coach Mike Horan is an Eastern alumnus who was part of the track team in the 90s and graduated in 1998. He explains that the school had a rubberized track installed in 1996, but there were problems with it from the get-go.

“The track was not affixed to the asphalt beneath it, so when you’d run on it, it sounded hollow,” Horan says. “When you stepped on the rubber it would fall down to the asphalt below. After each passing week, the holes were getting bigger. Eventually, giant chunks were coming out. It wasn’t particularly safe for athletes to train on.”

There were other issues, too.

“In the 1970’s, tracks were being converted from the imperial measurement system to the metric system but ours never had that conversion,” he explains. “Our track was an old 440 track that had converted measurements, and for a sprinter, the marks are confusing.”

In addition to having the wrong distance markings, the track encountered more problems when the stadium was renovated in the early 2000s causing the home stretch and finish line to be in front of the visitors’ stands instead of the home stands and press box.   

With this laundry list of issues beleaguering the track, the team wasn’t able to plan anything at the school.

“Our program takes pride in hosting great events,” Horan says. “We host the biggest track meet in Kentucky, the Eastern Relays. We’ll draw in teams from seven or eight states, bringing in 150 schools, but we haven’t been able to host this at Eastern since 2003. We’ve been partnering with the University of Louisville to host it there, and they’ve been great, but it was born at Eastern and we’d love to bring it back to our campus.”

Something needed to be done. Instead of waiting for the next influx of parents to come in to find a solution, three years ago two ‘track dads’, David Emery and Jeff Richardson, took the bull by the horns and began planning how they, and others, could work to bring the Eastern track program back to the high school.

“It started with a lot of planning,” Horan says. “We’ve held three pretty significant fundraising dinners. We invited anyone involved with the track program to them. This includes alumni, parents of the team and future runners. We’ve gotten a lot of support from other programs in the building — basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, football, because they all use that facility as a part of their training as well.”

Another large fundraiser they do is in conjunction with Custom Fundraising Solutions. Even before they began earning money for the track three years ago, the program had been working with CFS to hold mattress sales. Twenty-two mattresses are brought into the gym and set up like a showroom, then customers can come in to try them out. Orders are taken, and mattress will be delivered to the homes for free. This sale is generally held in early March.

They have also received a great deal of backing from the community and area businesses.

“Building a track takes a lot of gravel,” Horan says. “The Rogers Group is donating the gravel that we need. This donation is worth 3 to $4,000.”

Besides fundraisers and community help, the parents and students have provided some of the sweat equity in order to save money. The contractor for the project suggested that if the team was able to take the rubber off it would save them close to $4,000. They brought in three dumpsters and everyone joined in to pull the track off by hand. Thankfully, there was a dad with a John Deer tractor who helped take off the majority of the track.

“You’ve never seen so much joy in labor,” Horan says. “The athletes know there’s going to be something pretty special that they’ve all been waiting for and working for. This isn’t something that’s being given to us by anyone else. This isn’t something that just the moms and dads have done. This has been a collaborative effort between amazing parents, amazing athletes and a great group of coaches. And it’s taken a while to do it. The price we’ve paid has ended in satisfaction.”

Fundraising efforts have brought in more than $170,000, but the track construction and the equipment needed to run track meets is going to cost close to $400,000 in total.

“In addition, we have families involved in our program who stepped up in other ways,” Horan says. “Our booster club is not allowed to take on debt, so our parents are backing the loan. What a pretty unique group we have to take that on.”

Finding a competitive location in town for track is difficult, which is another reason Eastern is working to upgrade their track and facilities.

“You think about other sports like basketball, baseball, volleyball, lacrosse, softball, and you can find competitive facilities at schools, parks, churches or at for-profit businesses,” Horan says. “But really, all tracks in the city are at schools, and there aren’t many of those, even. There aren’t many opportunities for youth runners. The sport of running has been growing tremendously here, and some of the schools around Eastern like Hite, Crosby, Stopher, and Tully is where a lot of that growth is taking place. They don’t have their own place at school to hold meets. The state of our facility was really limiting what we could do and offer to the community.”

Though the track program is working diligently towards raising the money to complete the project, Horan says they are always open to any donations or help from anyone. 

“It’s a beautiful sport that has very few barriers to participate,” Horan says. “We want to be the hub for track and field in Middletown, in Louisville and really in this part of the country.”

If you would like more information on how you can help the Eastern High School track team, email Mike Horan at Michael.Horan@jefferson.kyschools.us.

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