Officials dedicate all-weather track in Danville
DANVILLE – After 30 years of wishing, five years of planning and eight months of building, the Danville school district on Wednesday dedicated a $1.3 million all-weather track.
Though the track and field facility was built for the high school, district officials said it belongs to community members, whose hard work and generosity turned the dream into a reality.
"This is just one more thing our community has shown it can do," Superintendent Nanette Mellen said at a dedication ceremony on Sidell Street, just north of the facility.
Despite a cold rain, close to 100 school officials, students and community members turned out to dedicate the track, built on the old practice field on North Jackson Street.
Mid States General and Mechanical Contractors Inc. of Decatur also installed a sophisticated drainage system that naturally will divert water from the track and field.
That work is being paid for in nontax dollars the school district receives from PepsiCo for rights to sell only its products throughout the district.
A community-based committee is raising an extra $800,000 to buy bleachers, concession stands, lighting, restrooms and other amenities. It has raised about $200,000 so far.
"We've received donations from coast to coast," Associate Superintendent Mark Denman said.
They've come from elementary, middle and high school students, who've held penny drives, walk-a-thons and other fundraisers; parents; former students; community members; local businesses; and charitable foundations, he said.
On cue, boy's track coach Steve Luke and girls' track coach Wes Brown unveiled a one-of-a-kind brick wall entrance that will bear medallions and plaques with donors' names. The medallions and plaques are being made by TriGard and Sunset Funeral Homes, owned by the Rich Darby family, which is providing them to the district at cost.
Denman also recognized $25,000 donors, including the Don and Deanna Witzel family; the Louis and Sybil Mervis family and Mervis Industries; and the Danville Community School Foundation. All will have fields around the track named after them.
A fourth $25,000 donor wished to remain anonymous, Denman said.
The ceremony's keynote speaker congratulated officials and track supporters for getting a great start on the fundraising effort. He also urged them to go the distance.
"It's not how you start; it's how you end," said Dwight Stones, a former Olympic high jumper and national- and world-record holder. "You all have to continue to keep that flame burning. You have to continue to put yourself in a position to win."
Stones, who is from California and attended the University of California-Los Angeles, empathized with Danville Vikings athletes who had to practice on the school's old cinder track. He recounted having to practice and compete on a dirt track, which he called "the lousiest track and field in the league."
Stones said he was able to turn the disadvantage into an advantage at competitions, especially home meets. He explained that while he was used to competing on the dirt track, his opponents were not.
However, Danville High School has not been able to host a home track meet since the 1980s, because the old track does not meet Illinois High School Association specifications.
Luke and Brown said the new track not only will allow the school to once again host meets and invitationals and bring athletes from all over the state to Danville. They said it also will instill pride in the athletes, school and community.
"We've always had good, quality kids," Luke said. "Now we have a quality facility for them to run on."