In his 39 years of coaching, Rootstown’s Larry Bailey has accumulated a special list of numbers.
94 state qualifiers.
Four state champions and seven state runners-up.
210 boys track dual-meet victories.
478 dual-meet cross country wins.
On a personal level, he has run more than 51,500 miles in his lifetime.
Something had gone missing, though, for the longtime Rovers running mentor.
For nearly 13 years, the Rovers’ track and field program had been without a home track.
Rootstown last hosted a meet on April 29, 2009.
That changed last month when the Rovers hosted Ravenna and Streetsboro on March 30 on its brand new all-weather track that was first unveiled in the fall after an April 28, 2021 groundbreaking.
The 13-year race to get there, though, had many hurdles and admittedly seemed like it may never happen.
However, what began as a seemingly overwhelming goal became a reality through discipline and patient perseverance.
Maybe even a little bit of good-natured stubbornness and most certainly a lot of hard work by countless community members.
All-weather track becomes reality in Rootstown
The idea for an all-weather track dates back to August of 2005 when Dale Hluch initiated the creation of the Rootstown Foundation and Alumni Association after he saw a “mom trying to push her baby around the track in a stroller and struggling through the mud,” according to Rootstown alumni, coach and current foundation president Denny Pickens.
Hluch’s idea centered around the idea to create an organization that would focus on the improvement of district facilities, while also creating positive opportunities for the community’s students.
While the all-weather track was a point of emphasis, the foundation also worked to raise funds for a new set of bleachers on the visitor’s side of Robert C. Dunn Field and has also awarded 13 scholarships to Rootstown graduates.
The cost of the eight-lane, all-weather track, and its coordinating updates to the field-event areas, was approximately $337,000. The project was funded two-thirds jointly from the foundation and Rootstown Sports Boosters and one-third by the district by using permanent-improvement funds (none of the district’s contributed funds came from operating funds).
“I am very grateful to the sports boosters and school board for their participation in the completion of the project,” Pickens said. “I did not expect to see the boosters dip into the money they have raised over the years and make such a contribution. Al Marzec was very integral in rejuvenating fundraising and cooperation between all the organizations to push this thing to the finish line. This is more than a track for the team, this is a classroom, a community-event venue and a source of pride. We, the community of Rootstown, did this.”
Without a track, Rootstown’s athletes had to train creatively
While absent of a track, the Rootstown boys and girls track programs had to be creative in the way it trained.
Some of which would not likely be found in coaching manuals, but they worked.
Quite simply, they had to because options were limited or did not exist.
Rootstown runners could oftentimes be seen running down the sidewalks of Tallmadge Road or on the grass around the perimeter of the campus.
For long-distance training, Bailey would take runners to Towner’s Woods or Mogadore Reservoir. For field events or relay execution, or to host “home” meets, Rootstown would graciously borrow or rent space at neighboring district’s facilities.
And, other times, Rootstown would be forced to use the parking lot’s bus lane.
“We would close the gate in front of the middle school for safety to keep the cars out,” Rodstrom said, “and we would put up cones. It is what we had to do, but we are blessed with kids that want to work hard and that was really their focus and not on the situation.”
Despite the less than ideal adaptations, the Rovers’ history of success has maintained.
In addition to the list of achievements by Bailey’s student-athletes, 15th-year girls track head coach Kyle Rodstrom has begun his own legacy.
The Rootstown girls won their first league title in 2016, then followed with additional titles in 2019 and 2021.
Rodstrom has had 35 state qualifiers, 18 All-Ohioans and a state qualifier for 13 consecutive seasons.
The history of Rootstown track dates to 1958 with the construction of the football stadium
The history of Rootstown’s track dates back to 1958 when the district purchased land to build the football stadium.
The community, led by the Rootstown Stadium Club and its president Ward Davis (the namesake of the high school building and longtime school board president), began building the stadium in 1960 and an official dedication was made on Nov. 3, 1961.
At the time, it was one of the only lighted stadiums in Portage County.
Davis helped create the dedication slogan, “The story of how UNITY in a commUNITY got a job done.”
The first girls league track meet was held in May 1971, which was also the first year that the district included female athletics in the opportunity to earn varsity letters.
Rootstown stopped using the track in 2009 for training and home meets because of its deteriorated state.
A misconception is that cinder tracks are illegal, which is not true. The reality is that the track was unfit for use and it was also a financial burden because it would cost more money to line the track for home meets than it was to bus athletes to all-weather tracks for proper training, according to Bailey.
At various times and for various events, Rootstown would use facilities at Field and Ravenna.
“We owe a sincere thank you to Field and Ravenna. To the leaders of those districts, their athletic directors and coaches,” Rootstown athletic director Keith Waesch said.
New track construction at Rootstown shows what a tight-knit community can do when it comes together
The resounding shared voice from Rootstown echoes appreciation.
From the coaches to the athletic department to the foundation leaders.
“To say the least, I am overwhelmed by the way it has culminated,” Pickens said. “Coming on board as the [Rootstown Foundation and Alumni Association] vice president at inception and finishing as the president, I want to be certain that the Hluch family and their deception is recognized and forever remembered.”
For Bailey, it is still hard to believe.
“I never asked for this. I never made requests for an all-weather track, but sometimes I have to pinch myself that this is real,” he said. “We made the best out of whatever situation we had in the past, but this is really something special. It is a thrilling thing for the kids and the community.”
For Rodstrom, he knows his athletes will understand in time just how special it all is.
“I think that they will feel the weight and understand the value later in life,” he said. “What it does, though, is reinforce what a tight-knit community can do when they come together. Rootstown wants its kids to be successful in everything they do and the community comes together for it. They are always there for each other.”
For Waesch, it is the fulfillment of a patient project.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude for every single hard-working person that helped make this dream into a reality,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Rootstown’s track facility added to football stadium