Dan Lewis –
Illinois College has prided itself on a tradition of excellence, whether that means students in the classroom, alumni in the workforce, or athletes on the field or court. Yet it is a policy regarding the latter that is in question on campus this semester.
At the end of last year’s track season, long-time coach of cross country and track & field, Mike Brooks, retired and moved out of town, his positions soon filled by former Knox College Coach Jason Haynes. After the men’s and women’s cross country team finished up their seasons, Coach Haynes switched his attention to track & field.
Coach Haynes, with permission from Athletic Director Mike Snyder, who is also new to IC, began to enforce a new policy that would forbid student-athletes from participating in outdoor track unless they also compete in the indoor season.
Many student-athletes were surprised or upset about the policy that would not let some students join the team. Coach Brooks had treated the two seasons as separate entities and was accommodating towards students. He knew that “academics come first and not everyone could afford it academically to run both seasons. He was happy to have athletes no matter the season,” says sophomore track athlete, Taylor Klingele.
“Indoor and outdoor season combined takes up the entire spring semester and a month in the fall semester. There are meets every weekend in the spring semester except for three. Having students do both seasons is very time-consuming and a lot to ask.”
Several students who wished to participate in only outdoor track & field, due to time constraints or academic or health reasons, were denied by Coach Haynes. One of those students is sophomore Kolby Briggs, who says that the track team this year has “significantly less [athletes] than previous years under Coach Brooks.” Some student-athletes believe that this new policy has something to do with the low numbers.
Sophomore John Roller, who throws the shot put on the team, says, “some athletes are unable or unwilling to participate” in the indoor season and believes the new policy has the potential to “halt growth through the seasons and it feels constricting.” Fellow sophomore and athlete Ellie Johnson states that the track team is fairly small and that it would be nice to have more people on the team. Coach Haynes reported that only 16 men and 19 women currently compete on his team and conceded that this number is “definitely smaller than I’d like [it] to be.”
The Rambler has heard mention of at least five students who desired to come out for outdoor track, only to be turned away by Coach Haynes. Coach Haynes stands by his policy despite this fact. “There is a planned progression to the workouts, and that progression goes through the entirety of the indoor and outdoor seasons. It doesn’t stop and restart once the indoor season is completed.”
Junior runner Shane Blackley agrees with the coach, saying that track is like any other sport in that it is one program, regardless of the length of the season and the switching of the venues. The indoor and outdoor track seasons have their own conference, regional, and national competitions. Klingele argues that this structure separates them into two different seasons and sports.
Haynes says that the NCAA allows teams with both seasons to practice for 24 weeks and teams with only outdoor seasons to practice for 19 weeks and therefore the difference is only a few weeks and different venues. He remarks, “let’s not argue about semantics.”
Coach Haynes points out another argument: some student-athletes who compete in both seasons may not appreciate students joining the team in the middle of the program and becoming “just as much a part of the team as they are.”
Roller states that the policy has its upsides: “It promotes the sense of your team always being there. It also helps to keep athletes in peak shape.” Athletes who enter the program at random times would have to work to catch up to the rest of their teammates.
For students who are negatively affected by this policy, these arguments are simply not good enough to prevent them from participating. Briggs offers, “I don’t believe [current athletes] would be offended if athletes came out for only outdoor season.” “Track is my life,” stated junior Matt Murphy, who also only wants to run outdoor track. “It shaped me into the person that I am today. It’s disappointing that I can’t continue to do what I love.”
Sophomore Adam Enz, also affected by this policy, had this to say: “The coach is standing by his word, which is one of the things I usually look up to him for, but this time I feel like it is hurting the team and the athletes who are and are not able to run.”
Athletic Director Synder says, “I believe in his plan and am looking forward to the continued success of the programs.” As for the low number of athletes on the team, Hayes says that recruiting will bolster their numbers in future seasons. In addition, two new full-time assistant coaches will be hired for the track and cross country teams next academic year.
It appears as though the policy will remain in place and the displaced athletes will have to find other outlets for their energies.
Dan Lewis, from Mahomet, Illinois, is a junior majoring in history and political science at Illinois College. Dan is Editor-in-Chief of The Rambler and Student Body Vice-President. Dan also serves on multiple student-faculty committees and works in the College’s Archives.