Inaugural track meet at Hodges Stadium draws 40+ teams.

Spinnaker

UNF track and field head coach Mark VanAlstyne stood in the stadium, preparing to answer an assistant’s question about how the meet was going. Before he could respond, a member from a traveling team yelled into his phone, “You’ve got to come see this place next year. The track is awesome.” For VanAlstyne, there was no better answer than that.

UNF hosted its first home track meet at the newly constructed facilities in Hodges Stadium March 5-7, drawing more than 21 high school and 23 collegiate teams, including three-time men’s national champion Florida State University and teams as far away as Milwaukee.

“We want to bring some major events to the stadium,” Athletic Director Lee Moon said. “There were top teams and top runners on our campus and at our facility.”

And this is exactly what UNF has been planning for during the past 10 years.

The university completed its $4 million renovations on Hodges Stadium in 2008 after installing new field
lights and 9,400 stadium seats, altering the press box and installing a nine-lane competition track – one that is set to Olympic standards.

The track was installed by Mondo, an Italian construction firm that constructed the last nine Olympic game tracks, and is one of seven in the U.S. to meet the International Amateur Athletics Foundation standards.

“That was an interesting and strenuous process to go through,” VanAlstyne said. “Not many tracks and institutions go through it, but it gives us a sense of legitimacy in the industry.”

The certification process, which was finalized in November, included completing a 50-page document that measured every aspect of the stadium – from the track surface to the equipment.

Very specific elements like the angles of the slopes, and the friction and force reduction of the surface were evaluated. But it paid off by the first meet, VanAlstyne said.

“We really wanted people to look at [Hodges Stadium] and go ‘wow, I’ve never seen anything like this short of Olympic qualifying meets,’” he said. “And honestly, that is the response we got.”

For the Osprey, it was the “total package” – the nine-lane track, near 10,000 seats, warm-up track nearby and the beaches and shopping of Jacksonville – that made it so successful, he said.

Many runners and coaches who participated agreed, including David Frank, head coach for the women’s team at Bartram Trail high school.

“It was an honor to compete there,” said Frank, who coordinated the high school competition with VanAlstyne. “For a high school team, it was like going from the minor leagues to the major leagues. Our eyes were bugging out when we showed up and there was so many extra capabilities.”

Besides the nine-lane track, Hodges Stadium includes four horizontal jump pits, eight pole vault locations and multiple areas for each throwing event.

UNF Athletics administration believes this will help get its name out in the community.

“We have generated quite a buzz around the country,” VanAlstyne said. “Just in the few days after the meet, we have received many requests to bid on very high profile events – ones that would require us to work with the city to pull off.”

With the first meet down, UNF is evaluating and planning for future events, which could include the high school District Meet and the first round of the collegiate National Championships.

That means every top team will have to come through Jacksonville to make it to nationals, VanAlstyne said. And that’s something he’s confident the Ospreys can handle.

“Our stadium is flexible, complete and comprehensive,” VanAlstyne said. “You can do anything at Hodges Stadium that anyone can do around the country.”

E-mail Holli Welch at [email protected]