The University of Maine plans for a indoor “Speed Dome” that will include an artificial turf football field and a six-lane, 300-meter track. University of Maine rendering

Despite the absence of an outdoor track in the University of Maine’s $110 million master plan for upgrading facilities, university officials say the future of the men’s and women’s track program is secure.

“If we’re thinking about canceling the track program, why did we add a track?” asked Ken Ralph, the UMaine athletic director.

Ralph is referring to the six-lane, 300-meter track that will be included in the construction of the Speed Dome, a 100,000-plus square-foot indoor facility that will also include a 100-yard artificial turf football field. The track will include a set of sprint lanes on one side.

It will be the only 300-meter track in the Northeast and one of a few across the nation. Colleges that have 300-meter tracks include Akron, Grand Valley State, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Northern Arizona and South Dakota State. Pittsburgh is also in the process of installing one.

“We’re trying to do more for our track program,” said Ralph. “Think about the high school meets we can host in there. It will be so much fun. We’ll be able to do some running in the bubble, the field events and jumping in the (New Balance Field House). I’m looking forward to seeing the local coaches get creative.

“This is an opportunity no one else has. And that’s exciting. It will make us known for something.”

Ralph said any times recorded on the 300-meter track can be used as qualifying times for EC4A, ECAC or NCAA championship indoor meets.

The master plan for the new facilities that was announced on Wednesday is primarily funded by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation, spread over the next 10 years. UMaine must raise the remaining $20 million over that same time frame.

UMaine currently has a worn-down 400-meter outdoor track that encircles the football field at Alfond Stadium. It will be taken out when construction on the UMaine Multipurpose Center the new on-campus home of the basketball programs  begins.

“When we started kicking around ideas, we went through several iterations of what the master plan could look like,” said Ralph. “And the track was always coming out. We tried placing it in different parts of the campus. Then, when we came up with the concept of the Speed Dome, the question became, ‘Do we replace the 400-meter outdoor track, or do we build a 300-meter track indoors so we’ll never miss any practices?’ ”

Ralph said he spoke to his track coaches and, a day later, was told they would prefer the 300-meter track. According to a UMaine official, head track coach Mark Lech declined to be interviewed for this story before a planned meeting with Ralph later this week to talk about the facility.

Ralph understands that there are those who think losing the outdoor track is not a good look for the university. But Maine seldom uses its existing track.

The Black Bears haven’t had a home outdoor meet since April 2, 2017, when snow banks surrounded the track. And they have had only two home meets since 2012.

Carl Smith, who holds the school’s outdoor 100-meter dash record (10.58 seconds, set in 1990), and Dennis Walton, who holds the outdoor 200-meter record (21.59, also set in 1990), said the 300-meter track will have great benefits.

“We were on the road most of the time,” said Walton, now the Biddeford High athletic director. “Track athletes are a different breed. They go with it. They train, they work hard, and then you tell us where we’re going next. You hop on a bus, or a plane, to wherever you’re going, and then it’s, ‘Let’s do it.’ We spent a lot of weekends on bus trips to a lot of New England schools.”

Smith noted that the master plan did include an area for field events beyond the softball stadium.

“Track didn’t get ignored,” he said. “I just don’t think you need a track that you’re not going to use … I can see why they didn’t do it. It’s not a good investment.”

Smith, who is also one of UMaine’s most celebrated football running backs, said the track team has always had to travel for home meets and that practices were always done indoors.

“No one is going to come up (to Orono) to run in cold weather,” he said. “I support what they’ve done.”

Gorham High track coach John Caterina was at first skeptical. When the news broke last week, he questioned on Twitter the usefulness of a 300-meter track. But, he said, “The more I thought about it, I realized they don’t get a chance to use the outdoor track for the college. The spring season is too short. They still have snow up there in April.”

And, Caterina noted, the University of Southern Maine also doesn’t have an outdoor track. Its athletes train indoors, and sometimes, he said, go to Gorham High’s outdoor track to train before a meet.

“I think it could be a big-time boost,” he said of the 300-meter track.

Ralph noted that if the Black Bears needed to find a 400-meter track for training, it would be easy to find one.

“(400-meter tracks) are everywhere,” he said. “But no one in New England has a 300-meter track. It will take our program in a positive direction.”


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