For nearly five decades, Idaho’s annual high school track and field meet was held over three days in May at Albertsons Stadium.
But Boise State’s stadium expansion, which began in 2012, included the removal of the track surrounding the blue turf. And it signaled the end of state track as an all-classification affair at one prime location.
Since the stadium hosted its final state meet in 2011, the Idaho High School Activities Association has worked to find a satisfactory replacement for what was once one of Idaho’s most high-profile high school events.
For the past four years, the IHSAA has split the meets between Dona Larsen Park in Boise (for 5A/4A) and Middleton High School (for 3A, 2A and 1A). That reduced the number of school days athletes had to miss, limited disruptions to the host venue and addressed concerns over having enough seating for spectators.
“It gets brought up all the time, ‘What could we do to get the meet back together,’ ” IHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones said. “The issue goes back to kids missing school. Could you do it? Sure, but you’ve got to have a school that signs off on disrupting four days, and three of those days are going to be school days.”
Jones said the IHSAA has no immediate plans to move the state meet from Dona Larsen, but the organization is weighing its options.
The IHSAA will review all of the 2017 spring state tournaments at its board meeting in mid-June. At that point, the IHSAA or one of the state’s high schools could propose a change to the current format.
“It would be great to have the 1A through 5A all in one place,” Mountain View coach Tracy Harris said. “The parade of athletes and all those things are wonderful, but I’m not sure there’s a facility that can hold that.”
At top of mind for the IHSAA is an eye on savings, Jones said. The organization’s expenses rise every year, and it falls on Idaho high schools to pick up the tab.
The costs to put on two state track meets at their current venues are dramatically different.
The IHSAA paid $8,810 to put on Middleton’s three-classification meet and $24,075 to host the 5A/4A meet at Dona Larsen Park, according to IHSAA records.
So what makes Dona Larsen Park so expensive?
For starters, the IHSAA generally does not have to pay to rent a high school facility. In addition to renting Dona Larsen Park, there are expenses for parking, concessions, cleaning, workers and equipment. A little less than $11,000 of the price tag for DLP goes to Boise State.
“The prices they charge are fair. Yes, you are talking tens of thousands of dollars, but when you’re looking at the amount of time that we use (Dona Larsen Park) and it shuts everything down for them, no one’s complaining about unfair pricing,” Jones said. “It’s just that we’re trying to look at ways to save money.”
Both venues must pay for portable restrooms, and medical and miscellaneous supplies. Then there are the workers, which at more than $5,000 is the largest single expense for each site. All told, the charges added up to $9,331.33 at DLP and $8,810.20 at Middleton in 2016.
“Cost is always an issue for us. Anything that we can do to save our member schools money is something that we are definitely going to look at,” Jones said. “But then you also have to take into account that the track and the facilities at Dona Larsen are awesome. You are running on a collegiate-level track.”
Savings first, then seats
Dona Larsen seats approximately 5,000, and the IHSAA said that if it were to move the 5A/4A state meet, it would need to be to a similarly sized venue.
To host an all-classification meet, the seating would need to exceed that capacity.
“You could stagger things kind of like they did at Bronco Stadium, but the Friday those two meets overlap, you’re probably looking at eight to 10 thousand people there at any given time,” Jones said. “Just logistically, there’s no way that you could get everybody in there like it was before. There’s just not a stadium or a venue big enough to do it.”
Eagle High Athletic Director Kimber Chrz said the Mustangs’ Thunder Stadium seats about 5,500, while Meridian and Mountain View have room for 4,500. Rocky Mountain’s Brighton Stadium can accommodate at least 4,000.
“We’d be open to any venue,” Eagle track coach Greg Harm said. “We’ll go race anywhere at any time.”
Other coaches would prefer to keep the state meet at a neutral location.
“First off, if they moved (the state meet), I would be fine with it, but I ultimately wish they would have it (at Dona Larsen),” Mountain View’s Harris said. “It’s a neutral site. There’s a mystique about going to Boise State.”
Eagle and Rocky hosted single-classification state meets in 2012, while Meridian and Mountain View have each been the site for 5A District Three meets.
Though The College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene have track and field teams, neither school could host a state meet. The Yotes do not have an on-campus track facility and NNU does not have enough seating.
Middleton Athletic Director Ted Reynolds, whose stadium seats between 4,000 and 5,000, thinks a return to an all-classification meet at a single site could happen if the event goes back to three days of competition instead of the current two-day format.
“I’ve never hosted ... an entire 5A classification, so I don’t know what it would take,” Reynolds said. “But I know that if Middleton even had a shot at doing it, it would have to go back to a three-day tournament because we couldn’t fit it all in in two days.”
In the end, the IHSAA’s decision will have less to do with bottoms in seats and more to do with the bottom line.
“We review every state tournament, every state tournament site, every venue, every single year,” Jones said. “You take a look at it and see what went right, what went wrong and that’s kind of where it started ... and then when you start taking a look at figures, unfortunately, believe it or not, money matters. I wish it didn’t, but unfortunately it does.”
How do other state track meets compare?
Eastern Washington University, a Division I school in Cheney, Wash., charges the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association $15,000 for stadium rental and security for the three-day 1A, 2B and 1B state track meets, according to WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese.
Like Idaho, the WIAA is not charged for the use of a high school facility.
Mount Tahoma High in Tacoma, Wash., hosts the 4A, 3A and 2A state track meets.
In Oregon, all six classifications compete over a three-day period at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, one of the top track and field facilities in the country and home to numerous U.S. Olympic Trails and U.S. Championships.
However, the OSAA does not release contract details related to its events, Assistant Executive Director Brad Garrett said.