Current and former Sycamores are excited about the under-construction track venue, the Gibson Track and Field Complex, and the future of Indiana State’s program.
Current Sycamore student-athletes and coaches aren’t the only ones looking forward to the completion this spring of a new facility for the 120th season of track and field at Indiana State.
“It’s fantastic. It gives the university a chance to leverage its running heritage and reputation it has established in hosting the NCAA cross country championships,” said Christi Hill, ’93, a middle distance runner for the track and field and cross-country teams during her time at Indiana State. “The whole march-to-the-river campaign is going to make the overall university experience better for all students, not just the student-athletes. This will help get more students involved in things on campus.”
The new facility is “long overdue and is going to be a great recruiting tool,” said Justin Kunz, ’08, who competed in the 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter events.
Like legions of other track and field alumni, Hill and Kunz continue to support the program and its student-athletes via gifts to the ISU Foundation. In fact, they do so at a higher rate than other athletic alumni and than State graduates overall. About half of all track and field alumni give back to the university.
“They are the poster child of awesome,” said Phil Ness, athletics development director for the foundation. “Last year was a record fundraising year for Sycamore Athletics, with gifts totaling more than $1.5 million. We are grateful for the support of our athletics alumni.”
Kunz said he continues to support track and field at State, because he’s proud of how the program has grown and because he knows firsthand what athletic scholarships mean to students.
“Without an athletic scholarship, I don’t know that I would have had the financial means to attend school. I look at it as a gift to me of higher education that was provided by my running abilities,” he said.
Alumni who preceded him supported athletic scholarships, and “I need to give back. That’s part of athletic giving,” he said.
Cheryl Bridges Treworgy, ’69, a legendary name in Sycamore athletics, was Indiana State’s first women’s national champion. In her senior year, she won the Division of Girls and Women Sports national title in the 800-yard run and the mile. She was also a member, with Pat Shipley, Cheryle Hinton and Kathy Vogler, of the sprint medley relay that won the 1969 national title just two years earlier.
Treworgy may be more widely known for another first. She was the first female collegiate athlete in the United States to receive an athletic scholarship when Eleanor Forsythe St. John, who headed the women’s health, physical education and recreation program, tapped a university fund that had historically benefited musicians, for example, or those with high achievement in math and science.
When Treworgy first came to campus, Indiana State had no women’s team. She worked out and competed with the men’s team and was fully accepted as a teammate.
“I was awarded an I-men blanket, embroidered with my name, for being part of the team,” she said. “What I got back from Indiana State was the support from the individuals on campus. It was the fact that the town really was behind me and Indiana State really embraced the fact that they had a female athlete. Rather than ignore it or not make it important, they made it a feature.”
But Treworgy competed at Indiana State even before enrolling in the university. In the spring of 1966, she ran in a high school meet on campus the morning after future Olympic silver medalist Jim Ryun of Kansas set a world-record in the 880-yard run at what was then a new track that would later be named for Wally Marks, Sycamore football coach for 16 years, baseball coach for 17 years and basketball coach for four years. He also served as dean of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
In the years since Treworgy broke ground for female athletes, several other women have won national titles for State. Holli Hyche won seven titles in sprints, Kylie Hutson was a four-time winner in pole vault and Felisha Johnson won two titles in the weight throw.
Mike Hanna, whose time at Indiana State overlapped Treworgy, became the Sycamores’ first track and field champion, winning the 1967 NCAA College Division pole vault title. Chris Lancaster ’90, and Aubrey Herring, ’01, were the last two men’s national champions, both in hurdles.
Hill credits the leadership and continuity of long-time coaches John McNichols and John Gartland for producing alumni who want to give back to the program and its students.
“Having Coach McNichols and Coach Gartland continuing with the program for as long as they’ve been there, and the success they’ve had, cannot be underestimated,” she said. “The second piece is around the types of student athletes they recruit and the expectations they set for people on their team. It was very common for Coach Gartland’s team to consistently have the leading academic grade point average across the conference. The quality of the student-athletes and the leadership in the coaching staff formed a lot of great opportunities to want to give back.”
McNichols is in his 32nd season as men’s track and field and cross-country coach and his 26th year as the coordinator of the combined men’s and women’s programs. Since his arrival, the Sycamore men have won a combined 21 Missouri Valley Conference track and field and cross-country titles. He has led the Sycamores to four Indiana Intercollegiate cross-country championships, and the programs have won 34 conference championships during his tenure. He has been named MVC Coach of the Year 14 times, NCAA District V Outdoor Track and Field Coach of the Year four times and was the Great Lakes Region Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2009.
McNichols and Gartland are among only 11 coaches in conference history to be named to the league’s track and field All-Centennial Team.
Gartland has coached the women’s cross country team for 27 seasons. He spent 22 years as head coach of women’s track and field and is in his fifth season as an assistant coach. His athletes have won 12 conference titles, and he is a 10-time conference coach of the year.
“Marks Field has been a great facility for us,” McNichols said. “A lot of great things have happened to our program there. (But) it was time to look for a new site.”
McNichols was involved in the planning of Gibson Track and Field for two or three years. His goal, he noted, was “to be sure we lay the foundation for a facility that will be able to be used for major competitions, taking the same philosophy we did with the cross-country course.”
The LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course has hosted the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s cross country championships 15 times and has hosted the Indiana high school championships every year since 2004.
Current student-athletes who are doing quite well with Indiana State’s current facilities are looking forward to continuing the legacy of track and field success at Gibson Track and Field, a 10-acre $4 million venue that will feature the same polyurethane surface as the University of Oregon’s legendary Hayward Field.
“A new track facility begins an exciting chapter for Indiana State,” said junior John Mascari, an outdoor All-American in the 10,000 meters and 2014 MVC outdoor title winner in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. He holds the school record in both events.
“The success the track program has is consistent ever year. A new facility in a way means a new start, especially for the younger members on this team. It will mean a lot to them, because so many people believe in our program. I believe it’ll be a neat experience. It really goes to show how many people truly care about our program here at Indiana State. It’s going to be fun,” Mascari said.
Dedication of Gibson Track and Field is scheduled for April 17 in conjunction with the three-day Gibson Invitational.
But don’t look for bicycle races, which were a feature at annual track and field meets when the Normal Athletic Association joined the Indiana Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association in 1895. Also long gone are the running hop-step-and-jump and the high kick.
What fans can expect is an even higher level of enthusiasm from Sycamore athletes who are already passionate about their sport.
“I am really looking forward to the new track facility,” said Katie Wise, a 2014 indoor All-American and fifth-place national finisher in the 60-meter dash. “It will be exciting to have home meets and be able to practice and compete on the same surface that Oregon has on their track. The two home meets we have will allow students at ISU to be able to come support our team.”