Big Sky Conference track & field championships will be held at Lincoln Park Stadium this week

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Runners compete in the 1,500 meters at last week's Pacific Twilight meet at Lincoln Park Stadium, site of the Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships this week. Practically every week of the year, Vikings take to the fields, courts and tracks in Forest Grove for athletic competitions.

Those Vikings usually belong to Forest Grove High School, but this week a new set of Vikings is in town.

Starting today, thanks to an unusual partnership, the Vikings of the Portland State track and field program are hosting the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Lincoln Park Stadium on the Pacific University campus.

For Portland State coach Ronnye Harrison, the opportunity to host the championships is a dream come true, though he was feeling the anticipation a bit late last week.

“I’m nervous,” Harrison said, but lightheartedly. “I’m nervous because I don’t know what’s going to go wrong, but I do know whatever goes wrong, it’s going to be the first time it happens for PSU.”

So how does an NCAA Division III athletic facility become the site of an NCAA Division I track and field conference championship meet? In Portland State’s case, because of need — the Vikings are without a track to call their own. The team currently practices at Lincoln High School and the public track at Duniway Park in Portland, Harrison said.

Not having a home track does make it a challenge to host a conference championship. But Harrison wanted to make it happen. He ran the idea by his boss and then by Big Sky Conference officials and got the go-ahead.

“And we’ve been under way ever since,” Harrison said.

As far as selecting Lincoln Park Stadium, as Pacific sports information director Blake Timm described it, Portland State administrators came out to Forest Grove to check out the 7-year-old facility and decided to contract with Pacific to use it for the meet.

Pacific’s fellow Northwest Conference member Lewis & Clark College also was considered to be the meet site. But Lewis & Clark’s Griswold Stadium cannot accommodate many of the throws events, Timm said, and the Pioneers usually stage throwing events aside from the shot put at Concordia in Portland or George Fox in Newberg.

“Obviously, if you’re hosting a conference event, you need to have as much of everything as possible in one site,” Timm acknowledged.

At Lincoln Park Stadium, a grass practice field situated just on the other side of the fence from the track’s backstretch offers a convenient location for the hammer and javelin competitions.

“One of the things about Pacific that I really like is it’s an extremely well-designed facility,” Harrison said. “You can see most of everything that goes on in a track meet from the stands there.”

In addition to the actual site, Pacific will also supply its equipment for use, Timm said, such as its pole vault and high jump mats, hurdles and timing equipment.

As with any significantly sized track and field meet, a small army of volunteers, officials and other meet workers will be utilized to pull the event off — about 200 to 250 in all, Harrison said. Of those, about 50 are meet officials, he said, while Portland State sent out a mass mailing to current students and also reached out to alumni to recruit volunteers.

Including Portland State, 11 Big Sky Conference schools are converging on Forest Grove for the championships. The others are Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and Weber State.

A total of 242 women and 226 men are entered in the meet, which kicks off at 10:30 this morning with the 100 meters of the decathlon. The first event in the heptathlon, the 100 hurdles, begins at 11:15.

The first five events in the decathlon and the first four in the heptathlon will be staged today. Competition in the multi-events will resume at 10:30 a.m. Thursday with the decathlon’s 110-meter hurdles. The first heptathlon event will be the long jump at 11:15. No admission will be charged today and Thursday.

Competition in individual events will take place on Friday and Saturday. The men’s hammer throw and high jump will get going at 10:30 a.m. Friday, while the first track event will be the women’s 3,000 steeplechase at 2:15 p.m. All field events will be finals, while most track events that day will be preliminaries for Saturday’s finals, but the steeplechase races and the 10,000 races will be finals. The start time for the women’s 10,000 is 5:40 p.m., while the men’s is 6:30 p.m.

The women’s javelin and high jump and the men’s discus throw will open up competition on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. The first final on the track, the women’s 4x100 relay, is slated for noon. The final event of the meet, the men’s 4x400 relay, will begin at 4:10 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students on Friday and Saturday, or two-day packages can be purchased for $14 for adults or $8 for students.

For one entrant in the meet, the Big Sky championships will be a true homecoming. Kristi VandeBergh, a 2011 Forest Grove graduate and former all-state thrower, is scheduled to compete in the shot put and discus throw for Montana State. VandeBergh finished fourth in the shot put at the conference meet last year for the Bobcats. The women’s shot is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday and the discus for 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Local fans of Pacific Conference high school track and field may also recognize meet entrants Sydney Johnson, a Hilhi graduate and Portland State freshman who will square off against VandeBerghe in the discus, as well as the Vikings’ Amber Rozcicha (Newberg; 1,500 and 5,000) and Sacramento State’s Emily Kersting (McMinnville; javelin).

Timm, who will be working in meet results and timing, is proud of Pacific’s role in the conference championships.

“It’s pretty cool that our little Division III town is going to be hosting the Division I conference track meet,” he said. “I think it says a lot for the university, it says a lot for the city, and it says a lot for the facility.”

As for a thankful Harrison, he hopes this week’s meet is just a start for Portland State in terms of hosting championships and of a partnership with Pacific.

Said Harrison: “I just wanted to make sure that everyone at Pacific and everyone in the Forest Grove community know that, as head coach, they have made my career and moved it to another level, and I really appreciate the support.”

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