Built it - they came: Pratt Community College hosts large outdoor track season opener

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
College student-athletes from Coffeyville, Hutchinson, Pratt and McPherson strain for the finish line in a 200m dash heat during the first annual Beaver Classic, held Saturday at the new community track and field facility in Pratt. Sixteen junior college and NAIA teams from across the state showed up for the first outdoor competition of the season.

It was a dream five years in the making for Pratt Community College student-athletes to compete in their own NCAA-certified track and field facility in Pratt, but on Saturday, March 20, when 16 junior and NAIA college track teams showed up to compete at the first ever Beaver Classic Track and Field Meet, all doubts in the community about the value of such a facility in Pratt were erased.

"Saturday was a very exciting day for me personally, but better yet for the Pratt Community College Track Team and the college as a whole," said Pratt Community College President Dr. Michael Calvert. "It was eye-opening to see all the buses, vans and cars fill the parking lot and spill over to that adjacent baseball parking area. This event was the first of many large scale and smaller scale events that will use this new track/soccer facility. None of this would have been possible without all the community and college volunteers who made sure the event ran smoothly. We are excited to bring this track and field to our community and look forward to hosting many, many more college, K-12 and community events."

For Calvert, and PCC Head Track Coach Josh Campbell and track meet director Joel Pearson, the large contingent of student-athletes and the schools they represented at the Saturday meet was a blessing, a challenge, and a success they were happy to share with the community.

"The original game plan was to invite four, five or six teams to compete with us at the first annual Beaver Classic," Campbell said. "But as word got out that we were hosting, other colleges began emailing us, asking permission to come. We let everybody in the filed a request and registered. All entries were made online, so by the time Saturday got here, we knew we would have a crowd much larger than we originally anticipated."

To help handle the increased numbers of competitors, PCC track personnel put out a request on Facebook for Pratt community volunteers to show up and sign in to help with a variety of tasks.

"We had great supporters who showed up to help rake sand at the jumping pits and take measurements at the throws,"  Pearson said. "We were pretty excited about the turnout, about the support from the community, and just at how the whole day went. It wasn't a bad season opener at all."

The PCC track team had been competing indoors at several meets already this year, finding success in many events and qualifying many athletes to compete in regional and national competitions, but the meet on Saturday was the first outdoor qualifier to be held in the state.

"Our own Zach McPhee won the steeplechase event and his time is now 2nd in the nation," Pearson said. "Our men's 4X100 relay won the home meet and had a national qualifying time. Marvin Jean-Francois won the 400m hurdles as well. Our men's team placed 5th overall, out of 16 teams, so we were very happy about that."

Campbell said the PCC track and field team has more than doubled in size in the past year due to recruiting success, likely a direct reflection of the addition of the new track and field stadium facility in Pratt.

"Everything is brand new," he said. "It helps to know we have a place to practice every day instead of having to bus people around to different places. Having this track and field here has been a real blessing to our college, and to the community."

There have been several soccer events and Pratt Rec events held at the new track and field site, but the largest ever to descend on Pratt since the facility was completed in October of 2019 brought a big economic boost to the area.

"Every team either brought their lunches or ordered it delivered or went to get lunch in town during the meet," Pearson said. "The entire parking lot was full and overflowed to Green Sports Complex and I saw athletes walking around with a lot of Subway, McDonalds, Casey's and other food place items. We had students walking to Walmart and we brought in hospitality items from Dillon's, N'Cahoots and Daylight Doughnuts. It was a good day for everyone involved."

Pearson said that the PCC track team travels to West Texas for their next track competition on April 2 and 3 in Canyon. There are plans to host a smaller track and field meet some time in the future and to make the Big Beaver Classic an annual event in Pratt.

Calvert said plans to build a Pratt Community College Track and Field Complex were initiated in 2016 and shortly after, a grant from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund was received that was the spring board to launch the first ever Pratt Community College Foundation Capital Campaign. 

"The track/field cost of $3.5 million was a significant part of this $8.8 million dollar campaign," Calvert said. "Construction was completed in September of 2019 shortly after our soccer season was complete. We were looking forward to hosting events in 2020, but COVID-19 changed all that. So Saturday was our first large-scale event."

The City of Pratt and other donors supported the project, under the leadership and direction of Calvert and other PCC personnel.