Romara Jenkins etched her name into the El Reno High School record books when she became the first female in over a decade to advance to the Class 5A State Track and Field Championships in two throwing events.

That alone is a great accomplishment considering 57 female throwers attempted to make state in the discus from the four regional meets. There were 76 throwers in the shot put battling for one of the 16 state tickets in each event.

The junior eventually placed seventh at state in the discus and 14th in the shot put. I wonder what she could have done if we the citizens of El Reno had given her the proper tools to train.

El Reno High School does not have a regulation track for high school athletes to train. The track at Memorial Stadium is asphalt, which limits how often athletes can train to avoid stress-related bone injuries.

Athletes cannot practice using starting blocks because head coach Fred Slaughter says his program doesn't own any. He said if they did, using them would not work on the current track surface.

Jenkins’ practice area is not regulation and by no means safe for herself or any bystanders. She and other throwers use the sidewalk leading up to the old YMCA building in Adams Park as their throwing surface.

They train on a sidewalk.

The circle in which each thrower must stay is painted on the sidewalk. Athletes throw one way for the shot put, but move down a few yards to a second circle and throw in the opposite direction for the discus. This has to be done for both the length of the sport itself, but also to avoid a tree and pole in the area.

Neither direction has yardage marked, though Slaughter says they started the season with some distances marked but those have been washed away by the weather.

These issues could be avoided if El Reno, not just the school district, but the entire city would get behind efforts to bring some of our athletic facilities out of the stone age.

Help on the way?

There is a grass-roots effort under way to do just that with the formation of the El Reno Multi-Purpose Complex Project, a subsidiary of the El Reno Quarterback Club. The group’s plans were presented to the public and the school board late last year but an informative town hall meeting was held recently and attended by 25 interested people.

The project is set up for three phases and centered on the expansion and makeover of Memorial Stadium. Phase 1 would be installing a new artificial turf playing surface along with a scoreboard and a regulation track.

The track would be built somewhere near the stadium or there is talk of having a combined track and regulation-sized soccer field built where the current lighted soccer field in Adams Park sits.

“No doubt it’s time. We are one of just five schools in Class 5A without a turf field and that is shocking to me. We need to come together as a community and find a way to make this a reality for the kids in this community. They deserve this,” said El Reno School Board member Dallas Curtis, who also serves as president for the committee.

Phases 2 and 3 include building a new two-story building on the west end of the stadium which would include locker rooms for football and boys track, meeting rooms, bathrooms, coaches offices, a banquet hall, lounge areas and kitchen.

There are plans for work on the visitors-side bleachers such as walkways, bathrooms, concession stand, ticket booth and brick exterior to match that of the home side.

Plans for the east end of the stadium include a building which will house new locker rooms for girls and boys soccer, girls track and junior high football. Included are bathrooms, coaches offices, laundry rooms, equipment storage rooms and meeting and film rooms. A smaller weight room would be built for sports in this building.

The most ambitious part of the three phases is a domed practice facility with a turf field. The building could be used by not only football but soccer, track, baseball, softball and band during bad weather.

Curtis is quick to point out that the committee is not just focused on football alone.

“This is an all-inclusive project. We are committed to giving every student the opportunity to use this facility, whether it’s in athletics or agriculture. We want to have the ability to hold different events out there,” said Curtis.

Funding the project

Progress does not come cheap. Phase 1 comes with a price tag of $1.65 million. The field will cost upward of $800,000, while the track relocation has a price tag of $600,000 and scoreboard $250,000.

All three phases have been estimated to run $20 to $25 million.

Curtis says Phase 1 is a launching point.

“It’s a starting point for a couple of reasons. Cost-wise, we feel like it’s the most obtainable piece of the project. Secondly, construction-wise, it’s the easiest to get in place time-wise for both us and the community. Those are the big factors for making this part of the first phase happen,” said Curtis.

The committee is working with an unnamed consultant to begin fundraising efforts. Matt Goucher, who is also on the committee, said they are not asking for private donations at this stage.

Make it across the board

I support these efforts because it’s time to make changes.

However, I think the changes need to be made across the board for every sport. Research every available method to fund these improvements.

Phase 1 can happen through private and public donations as well as help from organizations such as the Wes Welker Foundation, U.S. Soccer Foundation and others.

Partnerships with the city of El Reno and Redlands Community College could also help.

In reality, the total figure can only be reached through a bond initiative such as the one that built the new STEM Center and Lincoln Learning Center and makeovers at all other school sites in the district.

This cannot happen without a plan which focuses money to each and every athletic site – high school and even youth sports. There have been upgrades in recent years and things are better, but far from catching El Reno up with the rest of the state.

Mustang, Yukon, Piedmont and Union City all have some sort of new facilities in different sports, funded with bond money, which are better than we have here in El Reno.

Okarche is set to be added to that list.

Getting taxpayers to approve such a plan will be a challenge but information and access will be key. I say develop a plan, get it out to the public, hold town hall meetings and let citizens ask questions. Make any adjustments that are feasible and then put it to a vote.

When it passes, and I think it will, make sure these facilities can be accessed by the public under some sort of set guidelines. There is no greater brick wall to get past in the mind of a voter than finding a locked door or gate to something taxpayers helped fund.

Look for more information in the coming weeks in your El Reno Tribune.