SUN SETS ON LEGEND
Newly minted as Notre Dame’s athletic director, Kevin White first stepped into Wallace Wade Stadium in 2000 for the NCAA Track and Field championships.
There to watch outstanding Irish runner Ryan Shay compete in the 10,000 meters, White began thinking of all the major track events and superstars who had visited Wallace Wade Stadium before him.
Like a Hall of Fame listing, the names include versatile sprinters like Carl Lewis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Duke’s own Dave Sime, long-distance runners such as Steve Prefontaine. Mary Decker and Frank Shorter and high jump legend Dwight Stones.
Major events like the USA-USSR Meet in 1974 saw 65,000 people pack into Wallace Wade Stadium over its two-day run.
Wallace Wade’s track history also includes the monumental, for its time, occasions when Duke’s Al Buehler and N.C. Central’s LeRoy Walker brought their white and black athletes together for taboo joint practices during the Jim Crow era.
“I remember sitting there and thinking this is a beautiful setting,” White said of that day in June 2000. “Thinking about Al and LeRoy and all the big events that had happened in that stadium. It was a really neat moment.”
Another moment in Wallace Wade Stadium’s track history arrives this weekend. On Sunday, Duke’s Twilight Meet has the potential to be the final track and field meet in the stadium.
Under White’s direction as Duke’s athletics director, the school has raised funds for massive upgrades to its athletic facilities as part of the campus-wide Duke Forward initiative. One of the biggest parts of the project is a reworking of Wallace Wade Stadium that will remove the track.
A new track-only facility is planned as a replacement.
Tentative plans call for the permanent removal of Wallace Wade Stadium’s track to begin after the Blue Devils play their final football home game this November.
While excited about what lies ahead in the new facility, which will be built next to Koskinen Stadium, Duke track coach Norm Ogilvie admitted this weekend will be bittersweet.
“It’s an exciting time for Duke athletics,” Ogilvie said. “Track and field will pause for a moment at the Twilight Meet, perhaps, if that’s the last meet we have here. We’ll move forward and into a new stadium and that will be good.”
From his office in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Buehler is quick to point out that some of the largest crowds Wallace Wade Stadium has ever seen came for international track and field meets.
The USA-USSR Meet, held under the cloud of the Cold War, matched American and Soviet athletes during the non-Olympic summer of 1974.
“The gravity of the moment is something I’ve rarely experienced,” said Jeff Howser, a six-time ACC champion sprinter for Duke. “It was pretty cool.”
That meet was one of many on which Buehler and Walker collaborated. Their efforts to attract great athletes to their programs and to their meets made Wallace Wade Stadium one of the sport’s greatest venues.
The stadium twice hosted the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships — in 1990 and 2000.
In between, in 1996, Wallace Wade Stadium hosted the Gold Rush Meet, a warm-up event for the Atlanta Olympic Games.
With top athletes from around the world having lived and trained in North Carolina for months to acclimate themselves to humid Southern weather, Buehler and Walker put on a meet that was second only to the Olympics. Athletes from 72 nations completed.
In fact, Buehler said, Carl Lewis’ memorable Olympic performance that featured his fourth career long jump gold medal was aided by his pre-Olympics work at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“Carl Lewis would not have won the long jump in Atlanta the way he was jumping prior to coming to our meet,” Buehler said. “He figured out his steps here because we had a long enough runway. In order to be able to jump (nearly) 29 feet you have to have a long runway in order to speed up. Two weeks later in Atlanta, he jumped (nearly) 29 feet.”
Current Duke decathlete Curtis Beach, himself an Olympic hopeful, has a full appreciation for what has occurred on one of the few remaining college tracks that encircles a football field.
“When I got here and got to speak with Coach Buehler and help out with film on his life, I was really blown away,” Beach said. “There have been 20 world records set on this track. I was seriously blown away with how much history has been set on this track. It made it more cool to come to a place with so much tradition.”
In addition to the world records, Wallace Wade Stadium’s place in the civil rights movement is also memorable. Under Buehler and Walker’s tutelage, black and white athletes from Duke and NCCU practiced together long before black athletes began competing in the ACC or other leagues in the South.
“We weren’t fighting,” Buehler said. “We were working together. It just showed how things could be done.”
Selected as an alternate for the 1968 Olympics and a bronze medalist at the 1969 World Championships in the 110 high hurdles, Howser said working with the top athletes Walker and Buehler regularly brought together pushed him to excellence.
“Practices became like international meets because (Walker) had a lot of good guys on his team,” Howser said. “Training with them was a great experience because it picked up international relations because he had a lot of great international athletes on his teams.”
But as great as Wallace Wade Stadium has been for track and field, the consensus is that the time has arrived for a new venue.
Ogilvie, Duke’s track coach since 1990, said he’s spent more time at Wallace Wade Stadium than in his own home. Even though the new track stadium likely won’t be open until 2015, Ogilvie is prepared to say goodbye to Duke’s old track home.
“I know it’s the thing that needs to be done,” Ogilvie said. “We are looking forward to having a super-great stadium. The track and field facilities will be much better in the new stadium and we are excited about that. Just making it a better stadium where we can throw the javelin, throw the shot put and the discus in the middle of the infield where we can long jump and pole vault without a crosswind going against us. From an athletic standpoint, the new track stadium will be vastly superior.”
Stanford University went through a similar circumstance back in 2005, removing the track from Stanford Stadium, renovating the football field and building a new track home.
“I’m really excited about getting us to home base,” White said. “Creating a world-class practice facility that will be used on occasion for meets. I’d rather put the money in the 52 weeks a year facility than the one or two meets we may or may not have every couple of years.”
Like Wallace Wade Stadium, White said the new track will be accessible to the campus and Durham communities for recreation. He plans for it to be lighted 24 hours a day for round-the-clock fitness needs.
“It will be wide open, by design,” White said. “This thing is going to serve so many different constituency groups beyond just intercollegiate track and field.”
The new place had better be good, Buehler said, to follow the legend of Wallace Wade Stadium.
“Think of what we’re walking away from,” Buehler said. “There’s not a track in North or South Carolina, or south of the Mason-Dixon Line, that’s as good for hosting big meets. But that’s progress. Who am I to say? I’m just saying we have a fantastic facility and it’s good for any type track meet you want.”