In the past two weeks, Conway has become one of the college track capitals of the region with both the University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix hosting conference track meets, something that hasn’t happened in three decades and won’t happen again for awhile.
The weather cooperated for both, which had UCA track coach Richard Martin smiling Saturday as he watched a variety of activities at the Southland Conference meet at the Bill Stephens Complex.
“The weather’s good, we have a nice facility and the track is fast,” he said. “From the days I ran track here, Conway people have always been good about turning out to watch sports.”
Field event finals begin at 10 a.m. Sunday with the running finals scheduled from 2-4:40 p.m.
The Southland Conference meet is a three-day event because the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon have multiple events in both the track area and the field event area that span two days.
“This is a very good track conference,” said Martin of the 14-team event. “You have seven schools from Texas and there are a lot of great athletes in Texas.”
All of the Texas schools (in Houston, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Huntsville and Abilene) don’t have to go out of their region to get quality athletes. Each of those cities have strong high school programs and the Texas state and regional meets are some of the best in the country.
Exhibit A is is Colton Ross of Stephen F. Austin who came into the meet with the best outdoor vault in the world this year. He did not achieve that height this weekend but led a 24-point finish by the Lumberjacks in that event.
There were several trailers and RV’s in the parking lot next to the complex.
“Fans and parents of several of these schools will travel,” Martin said. “You can tell that by looking at the parking lot.”
UCA’s Brooke Cassar was a repeat winner in the 10,000 meters Friday night.
“She’s just a competitor,” Martin said. “She doesn’t like to be passed. She was hurt and was sick her first two years here. Now, that she’s healthy, she’s better than we figured. If she’s 100 percent, she’ll give you 110 percent.”
Chris Riggins, a former UCA football star who works in administration, was in charge of securing officials and volunteer coaches.
He turned to his former coach, Mike Isom, for one. Isom, carrying a pistol, served as a starter.
One of the best spots at the complex was in a grove of trees on the Donaghey side of the track. That’s where the pole vault competition took place. Underneath the trees was a line of spectators in lawn chairs. The occasional breeze was a respite during the afternoon heat.
DONATING TO THE CAUSE
Several of the teams, emphasizing “Southland Strong” brought with them donations and supplies they had collected for the tornado victims in Mayflower and Vilonia.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)