2016 meet to be held at Mini-Dome March 3-5, 2017 also booked
By Jeff Keeling
After a five-year hiatus, a collegiate indoor national track championship meet that called Johnson City home for 10 years is returning for at least the next two years.
It would be an understatement to say the last National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Indoor Track & Field National Championships held at East Tennessee State University’s minidome had their share of excitement. With Oklahoma Christian’s Silas Kisorio breaking a meet record in the mile and the women’s team championship decided on the last relay and by just one point, the 2010 championships left track and field fans hungry for more.
They’ll get more next March as the championships return to Johnson City after being held in Geneva, Ohio since 2011, Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Brenda Whitson told News and Neighbor last week. And the athletes standing on the podium after excelling in their respective events won’t be the only winners as roughly 1,200 athletes from across the country descend on Johnson City for around a week. The meet is set for March 3-5, with the 2017 meet March 2-4.
“The economic impact is significant,” Whitson said. “It’s well over $1 million.”
Whitson said Milligan College track coach Chris Layne and the college’s Mark Fox, who were involved in recruiting the tournament when it began a 10-year run in 2001, were instrumental in engineering its return.
“We built and grew the program and built a great relationship and reputation with NAIA, and we’re very excited to have the championships returning to Johnson City,” Whitson said.
Layne acted as tournament director during the 2001-2010 run. His teams had been traveling to Lincoln, Neb. for the championships when he suggested that the dome might be a great host facility, Whitson said. The late Dave Walker, then ETSU’s coach, got involved and helped with NAIA’s initial site inspection.
After a decade, NAIA officials decided it was only fair to look elsewhere, but when the chance to reapply came back around, Whitson – again with support from Layne and Fox – was all over it. This time, track and field promoters Marty Sonnenfeldt and George Watts also chipped in during the process. Sonnenfeldt – who heads Knoxville Youth Athletics and has helped bring a couple of indoor meets here in the recent past – will serve as meet director this time so Layne can focus on coaching.
Milligan’s Fox, Milligan’s vice president for athletics and student development, said Sonnenfeldt, “has a proven track record of putting on meets and developing meets. I don’t expect anything but a first-class meet.”
Fox said it will also benefit Milligan’s teams to have their coach focusing solely on his teams’ performances.
“We’re thrilled it’s coming back,” Fox said. “We’ve got a very competitive team, and we’ve got an individual or two that will threaten for a national championship, I think.”
NAIA announced the location on its website today, with the following comment from its president and CEO Jim Carr. “Johnson City has served as a first-class national championship destination for indoor track and field in the past, and we are confident that the future will only surpass that reputation. Our student-athletes deserve to have an experience that they will remember for a lifetime and we are confident that the Johnson City Convention and Visitors’ Bureau will continue to offer that to them.”
The return of the NAIAs may be the tip of the iceberg with regard to track and field, both indoor and outdoor.
Johnson City has attracted several track and field events since 2010, and Whitson said the community’s reputation in that regard should grow even more with the return of the NAIA’s and upgrades set for Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium. Those upgrades will enhance several field events and provide javelin and weight throw areas, putting Johnson City in the running for a number of potentially lucrative meets it’s been unable to effectively bid on to date.
“The elements the city has agreed to purchase through the additional 2 percent hotel-motel tax will enhance our ability to look at other outdoor track and field championships and to host some major events there,” Whitson said.