Coaching Management, 15.1, January 2007, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1501/bbnewfacility.htm
When it came time to open a new $3.1 million track this fall, officials at the University of Massachusetts knew a simple ribbon-cutting and photo op would not suffice. So instead, they made the Sept. 23 track opening ceremony part of a day-long celebration that included a home football game, alumni run, and cross country meet.
According to Ken O’Brien, Head Coach of Men’s Track and Field and Cross Country, the university’s goal was to bring track and field alumni back to celebrate the facility’s opening in a day filled with events. The cross country meet was scheduled before a home football game on dedication day in order to draw a larger crowd. Before the meet, former track and field athletes were encouraged to take a run around the 5,000-meter course.
“Most of the people jogged then got into a semi-run near the finish line, but it was more about camaraderie than competition,” O’Brien says. “Afterward, they stayed to watch the cross country race.”
UMass enticed former athletes to the celebration using what O’Brien calls a “three-pronged attack” from the athletic department, university administrators, and university fundraisers. The athletic department was already in contact with athletes through a project to build an endowment for the track and field program, so efforts to spread the word about the celebration started there. The department also identified point people among alumni groups who could help get the message out.
“Within each group of five or six classes, there’s a person who maintains Web sites or e-mail addresses to keep in contact with others,” O’Brien says. “We went to them immediately, told them the rough outline for the day, and asked them to get the information out as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, the university went through its formal process of inviting state officials and politicians, as well as administrators and professors.
“A traditional track and field program doesn’t have much staff, and an undertaking this large could have really eaten into our daily routine, but we got great help from the athletic department,” O’Brien says. “It did take overcoming some inertia to get started, but once we did, everything went smoothly.”
O’Brien says after going 12 years without a proper track, the team was ready to celebrate a top-of-the-line facility that is already beginning to pay dividends for the program. “As soon as we put an artist’s rendering of the track in our media guide, recruiting picked up,” O’Brien says. “We’ll have three home meets this season and everyone is very excited about them. These meets will not only energize the athletes, but they will also get alumni to come back on a regular basis. I see this as a unifying facility for the community, alumni, and most importantly, our athletes. They didn’t have a track for so long, and I can already see their efforts improving.”