Lincoln getting set to host MIAA outdoor track championships

Lincoln sophomore Jhevere Hall takes her warmup laps around the track Wednesday at Dwight T. Reed Stadium as the Blue Tigers prepare to host the MIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships that start Friday.

Lincoln sophomore Jhevere Hall takes her warmup laps around the track Wednesday at Dwight T. Reed Stadium as the Blue Tigers prepare to host the MIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships that start Friday. Photo by Julie Smith.

This weekend, area sports fans will get to see something they haven’t seen in 15 years – Lincoln track and field athletes competing at home.

And the Blue Tigers won’t be taking part in just any meet, as Lincoln’s Dwight T. Reed Stadium will play host to the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Outdoor Championships.

So for the first time since last century – 1999 to be specific – fans can see Blue Tigers in their natural environment.

“It’s great for our community, they have not seen our track program compete here in town in a long time,” Lincoln athletic director Betty Kemna said. “This is an opportunity for us to showcase them. We have world-class athletes that compete on a weekly basis, but our community does not get to see them. Now they can.”

As the years went by, more and more hurdles – no pun intended – arose to prevent Lincoln from holding a home meet. Thankfully, Lincoln had more than a gentle nudge pushing it in that direction.

“The track meet is on a rotation, so when we rejoined the MIAA, we knew what year we were going to host the championships,” Kemna said. “So for three years we’ve known that 2014 would be our year to host.”

Tim Abney, who has served as the director of the project inside the athletic department, said it didn’t take long to realize what a daunting task it would be.

“It is a process that requires patience and getting people to assist,” he said. “It’s not just saying, ‘OK, ready, set, go.’ It’s making sure you put all the pieces in place.”

And the jumping-off point was simple.

“Our first priority became the equipment, because we hadn’t hosted in years,” Kemna said. “We started looking back when (former Lincoln president) Dr. (Carolyn) Mahoney was here and starting purchasing pieces, like the pole-vault pit. We started putting the very expensive pieces in place first.

“Then it was, we have to go to meets. How do we operate the meet?”

Needless to say, technology has advanced a little in the past 15 years.

“I was here in 1999 and actually was an official for the last meet,” Kemna said. “Things have changed. Now you have to have certified officials and you have to have a timing company, it’s no longer stopwatches, it’s all computer-based. Getting those pieces put in place and getting contracts for those people to be here was next.”

The next big step was to hire a meet director, and Kemna didn’t have to go far to find one, settling on Dennis Licklider, the longtime Jefferson City coach who won numerous track and field titles with the Jays and Lady Jays before retiring.

“They had talked to me at the (high school) state track meet last year because they knew they were going to host,” Licklider said. “We sat down in October and really started ironing out what we wanted to do.”

Despite all the work that’s come since, he’s kept his sense of humor.

“I wasn’t sure I was really what they wanted, but so far I’ve got them fooled,” he said with a laugh.

Both Kemna and Licklider spent time at championship-level events hosted by some of the other MIAA schools to get a sense of what was to come.

“Hiring Dennis has really been a lifesaver,” Kemna said. “He has everything under control and ready to go.

“He has been in charge of everything. The ability to do that alleviated the burden on (Lincoln) coach (Victor) Thomas and his staff of trying to coordinate this and coaching their programs.”

Licklider said the newness of the situation made every task a bit harder than normal.

“If we were at Warrensburg or Emporia that hosts meets all the time, they know what to do and it’s just a matter of getting the facility ready and sending out some paperwork,” he said. “Between referees and umpires and event officials and volunteers, we’ve got almost 200 people coming in over the three days to help. And you have to call about 400 to get 200, and then getting them signed up is a major undertaking.”

Up next was coming up with a schedule that would accommodate all of the events and athletes smoothly, vetting it with others to make sure no problems would arise. Since then it’s been getting all the equipment in place and organizing a work force that includes more than 100 volunteers from the Lincoln community.

Kemna said the end is in sight, but there’s no time to relax yet.

“You keep your head down, you say we’re going to make this great and you just keep moving forward,” she said.

“It’s a huge undertaking and I’ll need a vacation after Monday,” she added with a laugh.

But there’s also a sense of excitement that comes with something clearly out of the ordinary.

“We’re excited to have it,” Abney said. “We want to showcase our men’s and women’s track teams. We want to let the community see not only the track talent here, but in the conference as well.”

Licklider echoed that sentiment.

“I think Lincoln has got a beautiful facility to show off, and they obviously have great track teams,” he said. “For the community to not only see Lincoln, but the rest of the MIAA, is a great thing.

“It will be a neat experience, we hope that we have a lot of people come out and watch.”

The event gets underway Friday with the first few events in the heptathlon and pentathlon starting at 2 p.m. Saturday’s action starts at 10 a.m., with the last event to start at 7:40 p.m. On Sunday, action begins at 10 a.m., with the last event starting at 4:20 p.m.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about this weekend’s MIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships being hosted by Lincoln University.

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