06/10/18 — TRACK: UMO plays host to 3 meets in 2 days

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TRACK: UMO plays host to 3 meets in 2 days

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 10, 2018 3:06 AM



MOUNT OLIVE -- Another "best kept secret" in eastern North Carolina has been let out of the bag.

Justin Potter doesn't mind at all.

The University of Mount Olive, long known for its baseball-rich tradition, introduced another regionally- and nationally-ranked program -- outdoor track and field. The Trojans needed 48 hours to make an unforgettable and everlasting impression among numerous eastern North Carolina communities and national collegiate programs.

Athletes in the Class 2-A and 3-A prep ranks battled Saturday in a super regional, which was their one-shot chance to qualify for the season-ending N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships.

The next day, UMO welcomed competitors for a last-chance NCAA qualifier.

More than 4,000 people visited the Ray McDonald Sr. Track and Field/Lacrosse Complex during the weekend.

"This facility blew up," said Potter, an assistant track coach at UMO. "I think people realized that Mount Olive is here, our track facility is here and that we have a very good team here. People really figured out who were on that Saturday."

James Ward knew about UMO.

The Beddingfield High School track coach, who also serves as the east 2-A regional director, contacted head coach Matt Van Lierop.

Ward proposed a super regional, which he had experimented with last season at Fike High School. Although it turned into long day at Demon Terror-Tory Stadium, the coaches didn't seem to mind running two meets simultaneously.

Potter arranged the logistics.

He along with UMO grad and Beddingfield athletics director Kelly Minshew-Vinson, Doug Thomasey of Blue Ridge Timing and Ward put things in place. Ward assigned on-track duties to the coaches.

The track staff -- director and head coach Matt van Lierop, associate head coach Jackie Kirby, assistant Daniel Barrow Sr., assistant Clayton Parros and assistant Earl Graves -- took care of the complex.

"[It] takes a lot of work having the regional," Potter said. "Beddingfield trusted us a lot to come over here and I think it's going to work out long-term for us. We would like to host a high school invitational."

Athletes reveled running on a collegiate track and many established new PRs -- personal records -- on the day.

Coaches raved about the complex.

"That place is fast," one told Potter.

Another coach described the facility as "great."

Other coaches commented "It's amazing. We're just glad to be here."

The impact?

Economically, out-of-towners patronized Mount Olive restaurants in overflowing fashion throughout both days. Potter is sure the business owners were caught unaware, but added that the sleepy city in southern Wayne County received considerable exposure.

The key is to keep the community involved.

Coaches have expressed an interest in running the annual Wayne County Outdoor Track and Field Championships at UMO. Another super regional could be in the works.

"If the community gets involved, I'm all for having a super regional again," Potter said. "I think maybe now they [the businesses] see there's a huge impact in the community...the amount of athletes and the potential payoff going forward. That will heighten Mount Olive even more."

Weary from a late night, the UMO staff returned to the complex for the NCAA qualifier the following day.

The high-intensity meet produced some of the nation's fastest times, including a "sick" mark of 3 minutes, 10.1 seconds posted by the Trojans' 4x4 men's relay. That was good enough for third place.

"We had some good things happen, not only for our team but other teams in the country who had All-Americans on the podium [at the NCAAs] who qualified at our place.

"It was pretty cool...little different experience for us."

Once Potter announced the final relay, he turned off the mike and watched the shot put competition wrap up.

He leaned back in his chair.

A feeling of euphoria overcame the assistant coach.

"Man, this is awesome," Potter said. "This was just crazy. We're all very tired...all the coaches.

"The [high school] talent in eastern North Carolina got to see a great facility and then some of the best athletes in the nation, many of them All-Americans the next weekend [at the NCAAs], were able to qualify [here] and they destroyed many of our facility records.

"It felt good to give everybody that opportunity."

In a quiet town that is no longer a secret.