Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor
Berry’s track and field teams will have a new throwing facility by the 2023-2024 school year. Despite the growing pains of temporary relocation, both the men’s and women’s teams set school records during indoor season and have set the bar high for the outdoor performances.
Construction on the new site of Dickey Field, behind the visitors grandstands at Valhalla Stadium, began the week of March 6, during the college’s spring break for students, according to project manager Nicholas Hopper.
When complete, the facility will be the best collegiate facility in the state and one of the best in the region, according to Luke Syverson, head coach of the Vikings’ track and field program.
“This is a showcase facility,” Syverson said.
The relocation is phase two of a project that started with building Berry’s first-ever beach volleyball facility on the original site of Dickey Field, next to the Cage Athletic Center parking lot. Syverson said that he recommended the locale when he heard about the beach volleyball program’s search for home courts.
Benefits to the site for beach volleyball included an already-flat surface, lots of sunlight, no trees, a visible location and close proximity to the Cage, which houses the volleyball locker rooms recently expanded to accommodate both indoor and beach athletes.
No infrastructure like roads or restrooms had to be built and parking will not be an issue, unlike the other location considered, below the soccer fields behind the Ford Complex, according to Berry Athletic Director Angel Mason.
“Yes, we have an incredible amount of campus acreage-wise, but there is not an incredible amount of space that can be built on that does not require a lot of moving earth,” Mason said.
Syverson said that Berry President Steve Briggs originally wanted to avoid displacing track athletes for the 2023 season, but giving up the original field for beach volleyball created an urgency to have updated facilities that did not exist before. Syverson said the expansion will allow more growth for his program in the long run.
“As an athletic department or campus community, we all benefit from each other’s success,” Syverson said. “The whole campus community benefits when we improve other parts of campus.”
When complete, the new fields meet the maximum standards for current National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competition, making Berry more competitive in bids to host national competitions.
The expanded facility will be more than double the size of the original fields, according to Mason, with two open lanes for long-distance throws and three cages for shorter-distance throws, compared to one cage and one open lane.
Another major safety and logistics advantage to rebuilding the facilities is a less compact layout. Sectors on the original throwing fields overlapped, Syverson said, meaning that multiple events could not compete at once.
“[In] this new facility, someone could potentially break the world record in the hammer and it would be a legal throw and be on our campus,” Syverson said.
With the new location within Valhalla Stadium, coaches are also able to potentially observe and coach track and field events simultaneously, in addition to the turf field still being used as a hosting space.
A major disadvantage of the move is the current need to travel off campus to compete. The college paid for a temporary practice site to be constructed on campus, pouring concrete and relocating the former cage below the soccer fields.
Athletes still travel off-campus twice a week to use a Rome City Schools throws facility near Ridge Ferry Park. The off-campus facilities are more expansive than the original Dickey Field, but the travel creates safety concerns, scheduling challenges and a strain on the program’s small coaching staff.
Current circumstances do not appear to affect the team’s performance. Student athletes broke 22 school records during the indoor track season that ended earlier this month, and sophomore pole vaulter Alden McDonald became the first male field athlete to qualify for NCAA Division III national competition.
Both teams finished first in their first outdoor track meet of the season, Berry’s Victor Icebreaker Duals, the first time in school history for the women. Currently, outdoor is the only championship season, although program personnel are excited about the conference’s addition of an indoor track and field championship this fall.
Junior Linny DeLeo, a javelin thrower on the women’s team, said that she is proud of her team’s perseverance this season.
“All of us are pretty determined to just be successful no matter what,” DeLeo said. “I think it almost pushes you more, like if we’re going to be throwing on a new field, we better be good on a new field.”