Tracks at two Rock Hill high schools are badly damaged and too dangerous for students to run on in competitive meets, school officials said this week.
Neither Rock Hill nor Northwestern high schools will host a meet this season, which started this month. Both hope to move competitions to other stadiums, rather than forfeit. This marks the second year Rock Hill High has had to do that.
The price tag for demolishing the old tracks and building new ones might reach $1.5 million, John Hair, Rock Hill schools' executive director for auxiliary services, told school board members at a meeting last week.
"We are not comfortable at all to allow the schools to use these tracks," Hair said.
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Rock Hill High's track is too dangerous even for practice, said Rock Hill High Athletic Director Billy Parker. The team is planning to move practice to the district's nearby Flexible Learning Center, he said.
This week, athletes from both schools trained on the tracks, but students and coaches said they're weary, and practice is less intense than it should be.
At Northwestern, the granite-like rubber surface is crumbling along several lanes. For athletes it's like running across loose gravel.
"People fall all the time," said Felicia Mitchell, an 18-year-old senior sprinter. "I know I've slipped and just fell completely on the ground. You've got to know where it's OK to run."
Rock Hill High's deteriorating track resembles a topographic map, with cracks and lumps jutting from the surface.
"We can't get the proper workouts we need," said coach Mica McCoy. "They walk sometimes, and they trip over it."
McCoy said the worst sections of the track are off limits during practice. He also places colored cones on trouble spots.
"I worry about the track affecting how we're going to perform the rest of the season," McCoy said.
Runners from both schools said it's tough to sprint at top speed when they're worried about falling.
"There are holes everywhere," said Maya Stewart, 17, a Rock Hill High senior sprinter. "We have to dodge and zigzag. It's hard."
"We need a new track with a better surface so we can run better times and compete better," said Northwestern junior sprinter Tyler Blake, 17.
The problem, coaches said, lies beneath the surface. The asphalt base of both tracks is old, worn and crumbling. Moisture has collected and loosened the rubber surface.
"Repairs don't seem to be an option," Hair said in an interview.
It's up to the Rock Hill school board to decide whether to spend some $750,000 each for new tracks.
When board members might vote on the matter is unclear. It could be as soon as their Feb. 23 meeting, said board Chairman Bob Norwood. But it might be pushed back as board members wrestle with how to justify big spending in a dour economy. The district could use leftover bond money earmarked for such projects, Norwood said.
Now might be the best time to do it, board member Jim Vining said. Contractors hungry for work are likely to negotiate a favorable deal, he said.
"I know it's a lot of money," Vining said. "We agonized over $700,000 for astro-turf at District Three Stadium.
"The issue is, is there something of higher priority in a school." The district "still hasn't given us a prioritized list of projects," he said.
Runners want school officials to pick up the pace.
"It's unfair because we have to go away to every track meet," said Gabrielle Lee, a 17-year-old Rock Hill High junior sprinter.
That makes it tough for parents to go and watch them compete, said senior sprinter Tierra Williams, 17.
"I feel bad for seniors," McCoy said. "And some of the young ones haven't run a home meet yet. I don't know whose fault it is; I just want a new track."