Massachusetts just may have seen the last of the big meets being run in Franklin Park.
With the relationship between the state's track coaches association and the Franklin Park Coalition being strained for several years, meets in the mecca of New England cross country could be on the way out.
And that would be a shame as far as Newton South coach Steve McChesney is concerned. McChesney, who ran at legendary Haywood Field while a collegiate at the University of Oregon, believes the rich tradition of Franklin Park needs to be preserved for the generations of high school harriers and they should have the chance to pound the same trails that Olympians Alberto Salazar, Shalane Flanagan and Lynn Jennings competed on.
"Our sport of cross country has few places that we can call home to," said McChesney. "Other sports have famous fields and venues and that is such a valuable part of history and tradition, and it keeps the sport alive. Coming from Orgeon and having raced for (Univeristy of) Oregon at Hayward Field, I value that sense of history very deeply."
The park was closed to high school and college meets altogether in 2012 as sections of the course received renovations as part of a $300,000 overhaul. Several trails were rebuilt and drainage issues were put to rest. The MSTCA was forced to move meets 30 miles south to the 3.1-mile layout at the spacious Wrentham Developmental Center, which offered ample parking, a huge finish area and spectator-friendly sight lines. The area also drains well after rainstorms and is maintained by the town of Wrentham.
The move proved to be a huge success while runners, coaches and spectators raved about the location and course, which was designed by MSTCA Executive Director Frank Mooney. The site was more than big enough to handle the 2,055 runners who competed in the EMass Championships, the busiest day of the fall season.
Long-time coach and MSTCA official Mike Meagher believes Wrentham was a solid alternative with Franklin Park unavailable, but is confident Franklin Park will undergo a revival in 2014.
"With Franklin Park being closed last fall because of renovations, we had no choice but to go to the Wrentham Developmental Center," said Meagher. "Wrentham is a great course and very spectator friendly. This fall we're committed to Wrentham for our class meets, but hopefully we'll return to Franklin Park in the fall of 2014 when we host the Eastern Massachusetts Class Meets and the All State Meet."
Like McChesney, Meagher is very aware of Franklin Park's unique history.
"I'm looking forward to a return to Franklin Park in the very near future," he said. "I've seen many outstanding runners, races and course changes dating back to 1960. There is certainly a lot of history and tradition at Franklin Park."
What the Franklin Park layout has over Wrentham is a charm and quirkiness. The Wrentham course is laid out on a grass surface that offers rolling hills, including a steep uphill heading towards the finish line. Franklin Park is known for the gut-wrenching 194-foot climb up Bear Cage Hill and the winding paths of The Wilderness shortly past the 2-mile mark. The course finishes up with a lap around the 300-meter perimeter of Playstead Field.
There has yet to be a final decision regarding the future of the two locations according to MSTCA President Jim Hoar. What he does know is that there are no meets at Franklin Park this season and Wrentham is more cost effective because it requires fewer police officers than the park requires rangers. Furthermore, with neither the Boston Parks and Recreations nor the Franklin Park Coalition keen on the idea of having bigger meets return to the park, at the high school or college level, the MSTCA may decide to avoid what has been a colossal headache altogether.
Steve Vaitones, who serves as the liason between USATF New England and the Franklin Park Coalition, said last summer that the relation between the two bodies was solid.
"It's Not Franklin State Park, it belongs to the city of Boston," Vaitones explained. "People are coming in and bringing life to the park. On a given Saturday you may have 2,000 suburban kids running cross country. The fact is there are a lot of people, whether it's neighbors or the zoo or the golf course. The gates don't open up saying look out everybody, cross country is coming in."
McChesney has no plans to stop advocating for Franklin Park.
"I like Wrentham OK as it is a good spectator course and I feel a fair course as well," he said. "I am not a fan of Northfield (Mountain) as I feel it hurts certain types of runners. Wrentham and Gardner (Golf Course) are fine courses, but they are not special courses in the way Franklin Park is. There is a line of achievements that can be traced back through all of the sucess of our city, state and area like no other course. To me, it seems like the entire city embraces the sport of distance running once a year in the Boston Marathon. If the general public was made aware of the history of Franklin Park, there would be a call to keep the tradition. My hope is that Franklin Park is returned to as the EMass and All-State site and history continues rather than fade to other courses that we settle for."
FRANKLIN PARK SCHEDULE
9/27 BOSTON COLLEGE INVITIONAL -----OREGON / UMASS / B.C./ WISCONSIN
9/28 CODFISH BOWl
10/12 NEW ENGLAND COLLEGIATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
10/19 CATHOLIC MEMORIAL INVITATIONAL (only high school race)
10/20 BOSTON PARKS AND RECREATION ALL COMERS MEET
10/27 MAYORS CUP
11/3 NEWMAC COLLEGIATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
11/10 USATF NEW ENGLAND CHAMPIONSHIPS
11/10 NCAA DIVISION 2 NORTHEAST QUALIFIER (TENTATIVE)