By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Just call it Christmas in October.
Like children impatiently waiting upstairs for the call down, Baylor's track and field student-athletes looked like they might bust down the garage-door entrance to the Woodall Indoor Training Facility if this went on a second longer.
When the door went up and they sprinted in, you could see the joy and amazement in their eyes as they started to take it all in. Priceless.
"I've had a lot of exciting moments as a coach, as an athlete," Baylor head coach Todd Harbour said on Thursday, when the athletes got their first tour of their new home. "But this is probably one of the top three. I was like a little kid, I couldn't sleep last night. I guess it was just the excitement of watching their reaction. That's who you work for - the young people you coach - and to see how excited they were to see it, that was special."
So is the Bears' new home. The $18.1 million Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium will take a back seat to no one.
"It will be the best in the country, it really is," said Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw. "That's what it's all about, just to see the joy on the faces of our student-athletes. This is such a spectacular facility, and to see their excitement, that's one of the things that's gratifying in these jobs."
The typically bubbly Tiffani McReynolds was even giddier as she took in the new digs.
"Right now, I'm really having a hard time containing my excitement," she said, "just because I've been here for four years. And ever since I was a freshman, this was something that Coach (Todd) Harbour) had wanted us to be able to experience. So to finally be able to walk in here and just feel the track, to run on the outdoor track, to finally have an indoor track . . . this is incredible."
McReynolds' wait was nothing like what Harbour and the stadium's namesake have had to endure. An indoor track training facility has been in the works for a decade, if not longer.
"This was on the drawing board back with Victory With Integrity (in 2004)," McCaw said. "So, this was 10 years in the making. This is a test in patience and perseverance, but the final product is spectacular, really beyond anything we could believe. And if we would have tried to cobble something together five or six years ago, it wouldn't have worked out nearly as well as this, us having the best facility in the country."
While his faith might have been tested through the years, Harbour said it was definitely worth the wait.
"God makes us wait. There are plenty of parables in the Bible about perseverance and waiting," he said. "It's all worth it when you see what we have. . . . I know I'm a little biased, but I've heard it from a lot of people that have been to a lot of difference facilities, this is one of the nicest facilities in the country."
Baylor's athletes started their tour with a ceremonial lap around the track, defending NCAA 100-meter champion Trayvon Bromell jumping the gun with a lightning-quick burst on the curve and then throwing his hands up at the designated finish line.
"Oh, it's fast," McReynolds said of the bright-green track surface, "if y'all didn't already see Trayvon take that first curve."
If location is everything, you couldn't have picked a better destination for the new track stadium. It's on the far end of the 93-acre plot that holds football's McLane Stadium and right next to the Brazos River.
"That's one of the things people are going to notice," McCaw said. "We're adjacent to I-35, right on the river and right next to McLane Stadium. It couldn't be in a better location. It's just a spectacular sight."
Inside, there's an indoor training facility - with enough room to accommodate pole-vaulters, long jumpers, high jumpers and hurdlers - plus team locker rooms, meeting rooms, coaches' offices overlooking the track and a state-of-the-art training room equipped with a hydro-therapy room and hot and cold tubs.
"If you look at the old track training room, it was built for about six people," said Deputy Athletic Director Todd Patulski. "And when you've got 100-plus track athletes, you've got people lying in the hallways and everything else. Track and field is one (sport) that every once in a while you have to put some time in the training room to refine this machine you're building."
The new track stadium will also serve as a great training facility for the elite former athletes training for the Olympics and World Championships.
"Part of my vision was having a place that when an elite athlete came in . . . the Jeremy Wariners, the Michael Johnsons, the Reggie Witherspoons, all of our gold medalists . . . to have this kind of facility for them to come and train, it's pretty neat," Harbour said.
Baylor will hold an official dedication ceremony later this month. The Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium will host a pair of outdoor collegiate meets - the Baylor Invitational on April 3 and the Michael Johnson Classic on April 18 - plus a high school championship meet in mid-May.
"I think word is spreading fast how nice a facility this is," Harbour said. "I've had coaches calling me from far points up north wanting to come down here to our meets in April."