BY ERIN DOHERTY, SPORTS EDITOR
Three hundred-forty-two meters. Not 400, not 300, but exactly 342 meters. This is the length of the Wilson outdoor track. It may be the only 342 meter track in the world.
For runners, the 342-meter track requires some accommodation. A “400,” or 400 meters, is a popular distance and one lap around most tracks. Not at Wilson: to run 400, one must run a lap, plus 58 meters. This irregularity affects longer distances as well: a 1600, the closest thing to a mile in track, requires running four and a half laps around Wilson’s track rather than the usual four.
Wilson’s track and field, like Wilson, have changed over time. It is hard to imagine now, but for years Wilson’s football and baseball teams both played on the same grass field, according to David Thompson, a Wilson alum and instructional coach. Running around the Wilson track could be dangerous, so the school implemented a backstop to prevent flying baseballs from hitting runners.
The track itself was cinder, not much better than dirt. Runners were unable to practice in spikes. “It was dangerous because its rundown condition prevented good traction,” wrote Cathy Reilly, co-founder of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators, in “The Story of the Renovation of the Wilson Senior High School Running Track,” published in 2000.
In 1997, Wilson representatives, DCPS, and the Army Corp of Engineers began the process to renovate the track. A proposal funded by the DC Sports Commision granted Wilson $50,000, and DCPS provided another $5,000. By October of 2000, after three years of planning, renovating, and a summer of painting and redesigning, the cinder track was officially redone with an asphalt surface. The length, however, was still less than regulation size.
At this point, a discussion about extending the track led to a survey to “determine if there was any way the track could be enlarged to a full quarter mile,” Reilly, a key member of the track renovation committee, wrote. In order to enlarge it, the bleachers and rear parking lot would have had to be demolished. “It wasn’t a small job,” Reilly said in an interview.
Former Athletic Director Eddie Saah said that, while he supported the track’s extension, “it wasn’t in the plans.” The track could have been expanded to regulation length, he said, “if people pushed for it.” Evidently, not enough people pushed for it.
Even after the renovation of the track, members of the renovation committee were disappointed. “It’s sad,” said Reilly. “A school this big deserves a regulation size track.”
Ten years after the implementation of the asphalt track, Saah decided that the constant maintenance for the grass football field was becoming too expensive and burdensome. In 2010, the grass field became artificial turf. The asphalt track became a Mondo surface track, the surface it is today.
Despite the need for accommodations among runners, the track has had a tradition that embodies Wilson’s unique character. At one time, the varsity soccer team would practice on the football field and members of the track or cross country teams would be using the track, while the football team would be in study hall until the soccer teams finished. The track and field, like the rest of Wilson, has required compromise among the wide range of needs and interests.
Today, unfit runners can thank Wilson because a lap is a little shorter and easier. And who knows, maybe a Wilson student can someday set a record in the “342.” •