A brand new state-of-the-art track at Bethel means legitimacy and recognition for a talented and passionate Bethel track and field program.
By Sebastian Studier
After a time-consuming, collaborative and extensive effort from many different faces at Bethel, the brand new track is complete inside Royal Stadium.
“I’m in year 11 at Bethel and I’ve been having conversations about this track for 11 years,” head track and field coach Andrew Rock said.
It took intense coordination, generosity from donors and several hours of work in order to complete this project for the track team and Bethel athletics as a whole.
“It was a really long process, and it wasn’t easy, but I think that makes it all the more fulfilling,” Rock said.
Junior middle distance runner on the track team, Annessa Ihde, had quite the reaction when she found out that Bethel was getting a new track.
“I remember the day Rock [coach Andrew Rock] handed out the picture of what it was going to look like and he handed us all our paper facedown. He said don’t look at it, making it a dramatic thing, and then we all flipped it over and were like ‘oh my God, it’s gonna look so sick,’” Ihde said.
The funding for this project came from the “Called to More Campaign” which in itself, contains a portion of funds intended for upgrading Bethel athletic facilities. Athletic director Greg Peterson claims he has extremely high praise and is deeply appreciative of all of the people involved in the fundraising process with the athletic portion of this campaign.
“There are a lot of alumni, parents and friends of Bethel who stepped up in some pretty impressive ways,” Peterson said.
Peterson also had high praise for Nick Cocalis, the assistant athletic director who is heavily involved in fundraising, and said that Cocalis “hit it out of the park” with the athletic fundraising.
In addition to the new track, the “Called to More Campaign” funded the installation of a turf football field in Royal Stadium that was installed prior to the track. According to Peterson, the turf was put in prior because it was the most cost-effective and efficient method for the project. The installation process for the turf and track began during spring of 2021 and was originally expected to be finished in the spring or summer of 2022. During the installation of the track, there was an extremely tight window of time to finish the project. There were also a couple of surprises along the way, such as cottonwood trees exploding on a newly laid adhesive layer, which less than ideally, forced Bethel to push the track project to this summer.
The new track will allow the track and field team to host their first outdoor home meet on April 15th, 2023 as well as the MIAC Championships in May.
The track at Bethel is getting positive reviews across the board from the athletes and coaches alike.
Senior sprinter and hurdler Josh Sampson and junior jumper and hurdler AnnaGrace Nelson both compete for Bethel’s track team and have similar thoughts when it comes to the impact of the track on this team. Sampson believes that the outdoor track expands the team’s opportunities training-wise and will allow the runners to keep their legs healthy because they will no longer have to run on uneven surfaces when they hold practice outside. Sampson said that previously, they would have to run on grass or anywhere they could find. Nelson is looking forward to beginning training earlier in the fall on the new track.
In previous years, the Bethel track and field team had to travel to Moundsview High School to practice each day. Coach Rock says his team had to share Moundsview’s track with other teams such as Northwestern University while lacrosse practiced on the grass in the middle of the track.
The impact of this track runs deep for the face of track and field at Bethel. Junior sprinter Jacob Parent believes that the track is going to bring a lot more spectators and recognition to the sport. Parent is looking forward to now having a place where friends, family and students can come cheer the athletes on. In addition to drawing more people to matches, Ihde believes that the track truly represents recognition of how successful Bethel’s track program has been, and will continue to be. This is a program on the rise, coming away with 14 All-Americans and an eighth-place finish for the men in last year’s NCAA Championships, both stats being all-time records for the program.
“It’s a moment we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Ihde said.
The track not only affects the current athletes at Bethel but also prospective student-athletes. Having updated facilities removes an obstacle during the recruitment process. Greg Peterson stresses the importance of “recruiting when we’re not actively recruiting” in his department.
“I think it opens up the opportunity for increased high performers because the facility matches what we want to present to prospective recruits,” Peterson said.
Coach Rock says it was always a difficult conversation with prospective recruits when he had to let them know that Bethel did not have an outdoor track. Rock doesn’t think that the track will provide a magical solution for the recruiting process but will rather remove a potential reason for losing recruits.
“I think it’s going to elevate the seriousness of our program,” Rock said.
As Bethel’s community sees another addition to its campus, it becomes apparent how far persistence, tenacity and dedication go in completely transforming and rejuvenating an athletic program.