The construction workers toiled for months, and Wilson track and field coach Neil Nelson sat in the stands and watched them, every day. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust that the work was being done correctly, it was just that adults don’t often get a chance to experience the excitement a child has on Christmas morning. That’s how Nelson describes having a new state-of-the-art turf field and all-weather track for his program.
“I watched it being built, every single day,” he said. “I sat in the same spot and watched it. It’s a dream come true.”
Last week Wilson hosted crosstown rival Poly in a dual meet for the ages. California’s two best high school track programs through the years, two public schools in the same school district just about a 10-minute drive. For years they’ve held the dual meet on either the dirt track at Wilson, or the dirt track at Poly, which was so old that it wasn’t even the correct oval shape.
Now, Long Beach’s champagne-level athletes no longer have to make due with apple juice facilities. Wilson’s state-leading 4×400 team got to compete at home on the same surface they’ll try to win a state championship on this June. Poly’s Ariyonna Augustine, the defending state champion in the 100 and 200, didn’t have to dust off her shoes after competing this year.
The construction has been funded as part of the LBUSD’s Measure E, a bond that was widely passed by Long Beach voters that’s providing funds to upgrade LBUSD schools with air conditioning, new fields, and other necessities.
Cabrillo’s new facility opened just after the football season ended, Wilson’s opened just in time for track, and Poly’s is currently under construction, slated to be finished this summer.
“It’s an amazing facility, it’s so great for these kids,” said Cabrillo track coach Scoey Peters.
Nelson and Poly coach Crystal Irving can barely contain themselves when talking about the new stadiums. The duo are both coaching at their alma maters, having seen
“Crystal and I talk about it,” said Nelson. “Now it’s, ‘Watch out.’ Long Beach has always had the athletes, we’ve always had great coaches in this city. Now that we have the facilities? Watch out.”
The facilities are top shelf for a high school and feature some amenities that junior colleges often lack. The scoreboard includes a speaker that can be connected wirelessly, allowing cross country and soccer coach CJ Brewer to announce the track meet results from the infield. The shot put area includes seating so fans of the throws can watch comfortably, a rarity at high school facilities.
There have been some growing pains for schools while the facilities are being built. Poly’s girls’ team won the state championship last year but has to cobble together condensed workouts this season while their future home is under construction.
“It’s been hard to practice just because we don’t have a field and then it was raining so the grassy areas that are left was muddy,” said Irving. “The kids have been handling it, they’re showing up each weekend and running personal bests.”
In the meantime, Nelson has been showing great sportsmanship to his rivals and has opened the track for Poly to work out on from time to time.
“We wish the best for everybody, this is all great for Long Beach,” said Nelson, who no longer has to sit and watch construction but can now work with his team every day on the new surface. “It’s awesome, awesome, awesome.”