Last year, when the days were sunny and the weather warm, Whitney Young student Lavinia Jurkiewicz trained for the girls’ four-by-800 meter relay outside.
But when winter arrived, the 16-year-old junior had to sprint in the hallways of her school because there is no indoor track facility - at any Chicago public school - for her to use for training runs.
At Whitney Young, long jumpers hurl themselves into an old high jump pit stuffed in the corner of a narrow hallway and shot putters fling the rubber shot up a flight of stairs. But the creative solutions put the student athletes at higher risk of injuries. So those who can afford it can train at a private gym facility. However, those who can’t afford the high fees are in danger of being left behind.
“Everyone just has constant shin splints, hip tightness, you know, the different variables of overall pain,” says Rachel Joravsky, 17, who has also trained indoors at Whitney Young.
This year, Jurkiewicz and Joravsky are paying an additional $370 this season so they can train twice a week on an indoor track at Lakeshore Athletic Center, a private club on the city's North Side.
But not all cannot afford the high fees, which means some of his team’s more competitive athletes must train in school hallways during the winter months, Whitney Young coach Bob Geiger says. The lack of an indoor track gives competing schools an unfair advantage because students at many suburban public schools train daily in an indoor field house, he says.
“Talented kids who can get college scholarships need track to do it, but they just don’t have these advantages,” Geiger says.
Building an indoor track facility is an expensive project, says Louis Noto, a principal at DLA Architects, Ltd. His firm has designed more than a dozen field houses in the Chicago area and building costs average $6 to $7 million.
The organization Friends of Track and Field has been working to increase student participation in the sport. Founders Conrad Worrill and Elzie Higginbottom say having an indoor training facility for CPS students would go a long way in helping the sport.
“Given our city’s pursuit of the 2016 Olympics, it seems the politics of the matter need to be challenged to put together the resources,” Worrill says.
CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan agrees the need exists for an indoor track, but declined to comment on any specific plans.
“We have had meetings with Friends of Track and Field, and we appreciate the interest they, and others, have shown in this idea,” Shuftan says. “[We are] interested in continuing the dialogue over such a project.”
Community outcry, however, has begun to garner attention from local officials, who appear to be exploring possible solutions separately.
Ald. Howard Brookins (D-21) recently formed an advisory committee on the issue and said he is meeting with potential corporate sponsors, such as McDonald’s and Adidas. He has identified a vacant, 15-acre industrial site at 86th Street and Holland Road in his ward as a potential location.
“We are really optimistic that with corporate and TIF (tax increment financing) money that we should be able to get it done,” Brookins says.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (D-22) said he is in preliminary discussions with the Chicago Park District and Board of Education about demolishing the board's Washburn Trade School, which has been vacant for almost 20 years, and replace it with an indoor track. He is also talking with a major corporation about sponsorship, he says.