By Molly Wilson
A new outdoor track means Bethel Royals can host meets.
Annessa Ihde runs to Mounds View High School to use their outdoor track for practice. Ihde, a sophomore international relations and Spanish student, is a middle-distance runner, so the one-mile trek is practically a warm-up. She likes the high school’s 400-meter track better than the 200-meter at Bethel University, so the run over is worth it.
Bethel announced the “Call to More” campaign in May of 2021, which included the university’s plans to upgrade key facilities for its athletes. Soon Bethel’s track and field team will have their own outdoor facility, allowing them to host outdoor track and field events for the first time in school history. The upgrades for track and field include an outdoor track along with new jump, vault and throw areas. Students and coaches were told the project would be finished by fall 2021, but delays and the beginning of football season have pushed the completion date to the spring or summer of 2022, along with a few other updates to the facility.
“I’m really excited for us to have home meets on the new track,” Ihde said. “Our track team is big and incredibly talented, so I’m really grateful that we will have an outdoor track of our own, even if it’s a year later than expected.”
The new track surface requires extremely specific conditions that Minnesota sometimes has a hard time delivering on. In order for the polyurethane surface to set, construction must be untouched and have six weeks of at least 50 degree Fahrenheit weather. With football back in full swing and cool fall weather approaching, the end product will have to wait.
Despite the slow and challenging construction process, the new track will provide a high quality surface for Bethel athletes. Accompanied by a shock-absorption layer underneath, the track will benefit athletes by taking some of the pressure off runner’s joints, helping to prevent injuries.
“I think the throws area will be done this fall, so we’ll definitely be using that, which will be a really nice benefit for our throwers,” said Track and Field Head Coach Andrew Rock. “There’ll be the long jump and some stuff we could potentially use this fall and in the spring.”
Track season starts in January and lasts 24 weeks. Until the track is completed, runners will be practicing either in the Sports and Recreation Center’s smaller indoor track or at Mounds View High School.
“We’ve never had a track on campus and we have a really good track program, which seems a little bit weird because they’ve kind of been making do for a long time,” Athletic Director Greg Peterson said. “For our student athletes it’s an opportunity for them to have a facility on site. I think it’s another opportunity for us from a recruiting standpoint, to show our commitment. It’s an opportunity to get other events on campus.”
Royal Stadium’s football field was upgraded with new synthetic turf. The team practiced on it Aug. 30 after watching the field’s completion the previous weekend.
“The turf looks incredible and the people who have put countless hours into the preparation and construction of the stadium should be applauded. They have done an amazing job,” senior quarterback Jaran Roste said.
For the first time in Bethel University football history, home games will be played on a synthetic field that is more adaptable to Minnesota weather and can be played on long after the natural grass would have died.
“It’s a little bit more resilient. It’s great. You can play in any kind of weather. I think that’s probably the biggest difference,” Head Coach Steve Johnson said.
The Royals can practice on the turf 240 times during the season as opposed to 45 on the old grass surface. Natural grass gets ripped up with use and does not allow for enough drainage. The new turf is designed to drain water as fast as Minnesota weather can pour it down.
The new field will also keep the football team outside longer as weather conditions worsen throughout the season. Without having to worry about slippery grass and ruining the field, coaches can avoid holding practice in the Sports and Recreation Center.
“Bethel now has a first-rate stadium that will showcase all of what Bethel has to offer and will hopefully draw more and more people to the school to learn about what the community and culture is all about,” Roste said.
As an athletic director, Peterson knows how important recruiting is.
“That’s something we’ve tried to be intentional about. I think Bethel overall has done a great job in recent years, doing [projects] in a way that is classy and shows excellence,” Peterson said.
Along with other minor upgrades, such as improving lighting and updating the press box at Royal Stadium, comes the hope of transforming the practice field into turf as well to allow more teams to practice at once.
The first football game on the new field will be played Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. against the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
“Come out and watch,” Peterson said. “For the last 18 months, it’s been weird. I want to really invite students and the community and anybody to kind of re-engage. Come out and just have a ball.”