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Track teams yearn to be outdoors

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The running in the halls usually condemned at high schools is a relatively common sight each February after the final bell rings.

Frigid temperatures have a way of making life miserable for the athlete attempting to angle his or her efforts into any sort of advantage heading into the coming track and field season.

And so the great indoors it often is. However, in the case of the majority of Johnson County programs, looking up at a ceiling that’s anything other than sky isn’t so fabulous.

Franklin Community High School possesses the type of spacious indoor facility in which runners can run, hurdlers can hurdle and throwers can throw. This time of year that can make a difference.

“It’s difficult and frustrating because in our case we’re a (Class) 5A school with facilities that are very poor,” said Center Grove boys coach Eric Moore, whose program won a state title in 2011. “The distance kids just run wherever they can, but you don’t get good by jogging at the top of the gym. You have to be putting those miles in.”

The first official day of practice for girls and boys programs as allowed by the IHSAA was Feb. 11. The state meets in Bloomington are May 31 (boys) and June 1 (girls). Thus, the discrepancy in climate from start to finish is extremely significant most track seasons.

Franklin girls track and field coach Tim Leonard is in the process of preparing what will be his 26th Grizzly Cubs squad for the competitions ahead. In other words, long enough to relate to concerns other local coaches have about attempting to construct practices inside their school.

The 2007 opening of the new high school has enabled athletes to utilize the fieldhouse, which houses four regulation-sized basketball courts encircled by a four-lane track in which walking or running 8-1/4 laps equals a mile.

“At the old high school, when you’re in the halls running, you ran more of a risk of shin splints and other injuries because it was so hard on their legs. It really had an affect on the kids toward the end of the year,” Leonard said.

“We’re in kind of a unique position with our fieldhouse because we can have pretty much whatever kind of practice we want. Overall it allows us to be more selective about which days we go outside to practice.”

Most high schools, Center Grove included, don’t have such a luxury and make do the best they can.

Moore, for instance, uses the upper east balcony of the main gymnasium when cold and/or rainy weather persists. Stride Mats can be used to simulate a running lane for sprint or hurdles use. Hurdles also can be placed on old wrestling mats, though nothing comes close to comparing to practicing on the Trojans’ all-weather surface outdoors.

The coach said hurdlers, jumpers and throwers are the athletes most inconvenienced by being forced to train inside.

Area girls and boys track programs begin their 2013 outdoor seasons in mid-March, meaning fingers must be kept crossed in hopes of warmer weather conditions these next few weeks in order for athletes to resume training outdoors.

“A couple things about (training indoors) make it extremely difficult. Field events become near impossible. We don’t have anywhere to pole vault, high jump or long jump, and we also find it hard to find places to run indoors,” said Center Grove girls coach Wes Dodson, whose team opens the outdoor portion of its schedule March 14 at Columbus North.

“The indoor surfaces are also much harder on the girls’ legs. Space is limited with basketball, softball and track all trying to use the same spaces, but we do he best we can to get in good shape to try to compete.”

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