Cascade, Jackson celebrate new tracks

As Steve Bertrand watched the rain come down, puddle up on his school’s track and threaten to scrub another practice in the spring of 2010, the Cascade High School track and field coach looked at his fellow coach, Bill Hull, and asked a simple question.

“How deep do you think that mud is out there,” Bertrand asked Hull of the muddy water collecting on the Bruins cinder track.

Hull had a simple response: Go out and measure it.

So Bertrand did just that. On his lunch break, the longtime running coach dug through his office, found a ruler, tromped out to the track and stuck it directly into the mud. When he brought it up he saw that it was 8 inches deep so he got a camera and took pictures. He later took pictures of his runners as they dodged mudpuddles at practice later.

Those pictures and the stories from numerous athletes and parents eventually made their way to Everett School District superintendent Gary Cohn, who helped set in motion the building of two new synthetic tracks at Cascade and Jackson high schools. After months of construction, both tracks are set to open this weekend (Jackson has already used its track for a cross country meet despite the lines having yet to be painted).

Part of the celebration at Cascade is the inaugural Bruin Mile, which will be held Saturday and will be the first organized event on the new track (See the box above for more information).

“We’re excited right now,” Bertrand said on Friday. “The Bruin Mile will be a celebration of all of the work a lot of people have put into this. A lot of excitement around this community.”

Cinder tracks, which are made up of a dirt, sand and rocks, began being phased out in the mid-1970s when colleges started replacing them with synthetic tracks, which are made from resilient polymeric materials. Most high schools replaced their tracks in the 80s and 90s and many middle schools are now replacing their cinder tracks. But during that time, Cascade and Jackson were passed over (improvements were made to the Cascade track in 1999), leaving the two schools as the final two in the state with cinder tracks, according to Bertrand.

The biggest problem with the cinder tracks is rain, which is common in the late fall during cross country season and spring during the track season, but heat in the summer wasn’t good either.

“It could be too puddled when it rained or in the summer it packed down like pavement and it would be better for us to run on asphalt,” said Bertrand. “It sat more than it was used. And it put us at a disadvantage than other teams.”

Instead of using the track, Bertrand, who estimated that his team’s couldn’t use the track 60 percent of their practice time, would run his kids all over Everett from Walter Hall Golf Course to the hills at Forest Park.

“We’ve had to be real creative,” Bertrand said. “The kids know every road in this greater neighborhood. They’ve been troopers about it.”

Those are the conditions that brought Cohn around. The then-newly hired superintendent was surprised by the pictures Bertrand sent him and he later walked the track and witnessed the conditions for himself. After talking to some of the athletes, Cohn then went to the school board and helped push through funding for the new tracks.

“The superintendent, the school board came through and really took a look at a problem we have in this community and followed up and did a good thing,” Bertrand said. “That’s what were about: What’s the best for kids. This is a good example of that.”

More than just students and coaches use the Cascade and Jackson tracks. The Everett Police Department and sections of the military perform their physical fitness testing at Cascade. Relay for Life events are held at both schools.

“People are out here 24-7,” Hull said. “Build it and they will come.”

Bertrand believes instead of his students being forced to leave the campus, the new track will be an attraction back for not only them but others as well.

“This is a win, win, win,” said Bertrand. “This is going to serve our P.E. classes well, it’s going serve our athletic teams well and it’s also going to provide a great community outlet for recreation as well.”

He’s already been approached by former runners who have previously never expressed any interest in track before now showing interest because they see the track. At Jackson cross country coach Eric Hruschka said he has an astounding 125 runners out this fall.

Both schools are now turning their attention to new practice facilities for their football teams, which both practice on natural grass. Both teams want new artificial turf fields with the replacement of both fields expected to cost nearly $3.1 million.

During the installation of the new tracks, both practice fields underwent improvements, which included bringing in new sod and correcting drainage issues.

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