Athletes from around the country are competing in the Youth National Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week at Durham County Memorial Stadium.
Many of the 120 teams — not including the athletes who enlisted individually, without an attachment to a running club — traveled to Durham for the event, some coming from as far as California and Utah.
Participating athletes range in age from eight to 17 years old, and those who place in the top six per event in each age group will be waived into the AAU Junior Olympic Games later this summer, according to USA Track & Field’s website.
This is the first track and field national amateur championship held in Durham since 2000. In recent years, the event has been hosted on college campuses throughout the country. Last year, it was at College at Brockport in Rochester, N.Y., and in 2017, it was at Benedictine College in Lisle, Ill.
Here’s what you need to know about the meet and its impact on Durham.
Impact on Durham
The Durham Sports Commission (DSC), a sports-based initiative to create positive economic impact in Durham, is the group that ultimately brought the event to the city.
Omar Beasley — a board member of the DSC and the head coach of the Bull City Express, a team competing in the meet this week — said the group made a bid for the site and also helped raise the funding for Durham County Memorial Stadium’s $1.4 million-worth of enhancements. The improvements included adding new aluminum seating in some of the home-side bleachers, installing a hammer throw cage and completely resurfacing the track.
Beasley said having the event in Durham, for local teams and for the city, is beneficial — especially for an event like this one that draws thousands of participants.
“Not having to travel or spend money, that’s huge,” Beasley told The News and Observer on Thursday at the stadium. “Almost every lane out there, they’re not from Raleigh or Durham. Nine times out of 10, they spend thousands of dollars to be here, whether its traveling, eating, gas, all that stuff. And that’s huge for the city; huge for the county.”
The economic impact of the event is not yet known. In December, when it was announced that Durham would host this event, the DSC said in a press release that the event was expected to draw as many as 4,500 athletes and generate upward of $7 million in economic impact.
Beasley said that this is a test run of sorts for the facility and the city.
“I’m hoping that we could do more of this in the future, and it’s a learning curve,” Beasley said. “As we learn the ropes, so to speak, learn what to do, what not to do, and gain relationships with the higher-ups of USATF and other associations out there, we put ourselves in position to showcase a nice facility like this one.”
History of track and field in Durham
Durham has a rich track and field history, one that remains a source of city pride today.
Two legendary track and field college coaches — Leroy T. Walker from N.C. Central and Al Buehler from Duke — formed a friendship at the height of segregation.
On top of separate successful careers as track coaches, Walker and Buehler organized several historic track meets at Wallace Wade Stadium, including the Pan Africa-USA International Track Meet, Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Games and USA-USSR Dual Track Meet.
In 1992, Walker was named the first black president of the United States Olympic Committee and played an integral role in bringing the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta.
“The history for track and field for this particular area is strong,” Beasley said. “Then, when you add in what Raleigh brings to the table with St. Augustine’s (University), it’s amazing.”
This month, the Museum of Durham History has an exhibit dedicated to the story of Walker and Buehler.
Among the many squads at this week’s event, several are from North Carolina. And within that, a few teams have ties to Durham — including Bull City Express, Triangle Champions Track and the Durham Striders Track Club.
On Tuesday, Bull City Express’s Tristen Beasley won the Boys 2000m Steeplechase for the 15-16 age group. Triangle Champions Track’s Victoria Swepson came in second in the Girls 2000m Steeplechase 15-16 division.
The Durham Striders will begin competition this weekend.
Results from the event can be found on the USATF website.
If you go
When: Friday (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.); Saturday (8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.); Sunday (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Where: 750 Stadium Dr, Durham
Tickets: $10 per day, purchase at gate