Varsity Track and Field

Through good, bad, Cessna Stadium stands

It got so bad at Cessna Stadium in the 1990s that volunteers helping to prepare for the state track meet walked through the stands with tools, looking for bolts from long-removed bench seats to pull out of the concrete.

"A lot of people donated a lot of time to clean the place up," said former Wichita East track coach Steve Sell.

From 1988 to 1998, the stadium went through worsening states of disrepair. Fiberglass seats became splintered or broken and all were eventually removed.

Fans were forced to sit on concrete inside the stadium. Many brought blankets and lawn chairs to be more comfortable.

But never, at least in the mind of the head of the Kansas State High School Activities Association at the time, was the stadium in danger of losing the state track meet.

"No, not really," said Kaye Pearce, the former KSHSAA executive director who has been a part of the meet for more than 50 years. "People worked at it and worked at it to get it in shape. Wichita is just such an ideal situation for more of our schools to come in."

Finally in 1998, after a year of work, new seats were in place throughout the stadium, which is nearly perfect in its setup for a large meet like the one that begins today.

Fans sit in the west stands, close to the homestretch and finish line for races. Meanwhile, dozens of teams set up camp in the east stands with tents and other sun-blocking equipment, setting up quiet spots for athletes still to compete and teammates who have time to kill after being done for the day.

The track is also below ground level on both ends of the stadium, helping some against strong May winds.

"It would be nice if we could have one more of the field events inside," Sell said. "but everything outside is so close by, it's an easy walk."

WSU track coach Steve Rainbolt gets a daily reminder of the state meet. He won the Class 6A high jump there for Shawnee Mission East in 1975, and had been competing there as young as age 13.

"I still look around and it's still exciting for these kids," Rainbolt said. "I can think back to that high jump apron and think it's the center of the world of track and field."