By Jonathan Deal
Traveling down U.S. 72 West, it’s hard to miss the shiny new elementary school dotting the landscape in Coxey. What drivers don’t see is a newly opened track just down the hill from the school.
After more than two years in the making, the track recently opened. With sleet in the air on a cold February day, the Clements high school track team couldn’t wait to try out its new facility.
“We never had pole vault equipment before this year,” said Gary Van Wagnen as he watched Clements pole-vaulters try out the new equipment. “We were jumping on mattresses behind the old school. So we’ve actually got a proper setup now.”
Van Wagnen has been instrumental in raising money to build the track facility. With no funding available through the school system, Van Wagnen and others in the community have led a grassroots fundraising effort.
“Beg,” Van Wagnen said with a half a laugh about how they raised money to build the track. “We did a fun run last year and we’re going to do another one this year. The Spencer Black run raised about $5,000. Most of it has been soliciting people for donations.”
The dedicated fundraising effort has produced the newly constructed playground equipment adjacent to the school as well as the track. In addition, a 1-mile trail around the school was completed last year that is used by the school and the community.
It hasn’t been easy for Van Wagnen and other community members. They are still about $7,000 dollars shy of being able to pave the track and complete the project. Paved or not, the new facility is leaps and bounds above what the team was able to use before.
“We had to use what we had,” said longtime track assistant Julian Owens. “We utilized the roads and the parking lots that run through Clements. We’re tickled to death to have what we’ve got now. We’re so far ahead what we’ve had in the past.”
Along with a new facility, Clements has a new coach to christen the track. Chrysanthia Jones will lead the Colts, who finished No. 3 at the state meet in both boys and girls categories, two years ago.
“Anxiously anticipating the finished product,” Jones said about how many members she expects to participate this year. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have signed up. We’re going to give everyone time to get physicals in and all that. Here at Clements, we have a lot of kids play multiple spring sports. Sometime that is a schedule conflict.”
For now, the Clements track team will run through dirt and gravel spread across the land at its new facility. But, with nearly $100,000 raised, the end is in sight. Another fundraising push would likely give the residents in Coxey a shiny new paved track to go along with their school and track facility.