As construction started around Lewis Field Stadium on the east edge of the Fort Hays State University campus for new housing and a paved parking lot, school officials began looking at options of moving the track and field facilities.
Space was being taken around the stadium area, in particular where field events took place. One option Fort Hays Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke, track and field coach Dennis Weber and others looked at was whether to move just the field events to another location. The idea of athletes, coaches and audience having to go by vehicle from one place to another though, seemed less appealing the more they thought of it.
So, the process of constructing a new facility for track and field was born.
“After some discussion, I think the athletic director felt like it made more sense to ultimately keep everything together,” Fort Hays Director of Facilities Planning Dana Cunningham said of talks that started a year ago. “At that time, we developed a project that would provide a new track and supportive facilities.”
What came about was to construct a facility at the Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex just across the bypass to the west of Gross Memorial Coliseum. With the acreage to do so, a plan was drawn and approved.
On April 4, the first steps of construction started as crews began leveling the ground. The facility, which will cost a little more than $3 million, will be just to the south of the Fort Hays soccer stadium that was constructed less than 10 years ago. The plan is for the facility to be complete by some time in the fall, so the 2017 season will be the first for the Tigers’ track and field program at their new home.
“There has been some reluctance to move away from Lewis Field for obvious reasons. It’s been there forever,” Hammeke said of moving a program from where it has been since it was started in the 1960s. “I think when you look into the future, it’s just a great concept and a great theory. It’s just a little challenging at the outset when you make a decision because it’s change. The exciting part is for the track and field program to have something to call their own.”
Most of the facility, which will be able to seat around 500, will be paid for through donors and donations. Hammeke said a stadium name may come from a funding source, it’s a decision the college will make in the next three to four months.
The track at Lewis Field is named after longtime Fort Hays coach Alex Francis, which Hammeke said his name and the other track and field coaches will be enshrined in some way at the stadium. Weber is in his 11th season as the head coach and his 20th overall at Fort Hays. He is just the fourth track and field head coach Fort Hays has had.
Most of the events will be inside the stadium, which includes the long and triple jumps, pole vault and high jump that will be on the infield, that for now will be natural grass. Just to the outside of the stadium will be where discus, hammer throw, javelin and shotput will take place. Weber said from places inside the stadium, spectators will be able to watch both of what is happening on the track and at the field events outside the stadium.
“At first, I was very resistant towards it,” Weber said of moving the program. “It’s convienent and nice to be at (Lewis Field). But with your own facility, you don’t have to work around spring (football practice) and other people coming and things like that. It’s nice to have the soccer complex over there. Even for meets, they can use that possibly for a warm-up area. There’s a lot more room to do things. Our field events won’t be quite as crowded. It was a little bit compacted (at Lewis Field).”
Hammeke agreed the move might take a little time for all involved to get used to, but overall it will be nice for the track and field athletes to have their own home.
“I think it will be a little challenging to get your head around the idea of leaving Lewis Field,” Hammeke said. “I think Dennis would agree that is the biggest thing. This has been home for a long time. I imagine if you ask a track athlete, there’s probably some mixed emotion there.”
With the program moving, the college will have to decide what to do with the track at Lewis Field. Hammeke said they have not made a decision on whether to take it out.