By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- For the first-time ever, a pair of national collegiate track champions will compete at historic Barron Stadium.
They will also be at home when the Shorter Hawks, the two-time NAIA outdoor national track champions, and the Lady Hawks, who captured the National Christian College Athletic Association Indoor National Championship in February, host the 2nd annual Rome-Shorter Relays at Barron and at the new Throws Center on Riverside Drive on Saturday.
Seven schools will take part in the meet, one that Shorter hopes will rekindle the concept of the event that began in 1961 and sponsored for years by the Rome News-Tribune. At its height, the Rome News Relays attracted more than 50 college and high school programs.
The Relays eventually came under the direction of the Rome Relays Committee and the Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority. In 2006, however, the event saw its 44-year run at Barron come to an end.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Scott Byrd, Shorter’s Director of Track, said about the Relays, adding that eventually it will include more colleges and bring back some of the South’s top high school teams back to Rome. “We have more and more teams who are calling and are interested in being a part of it.”
“There are adjustments being made as far as our future schedules to help this event grow,” Byrd said, “and we especially want it to grow in this community.”
Joining the Hawks and Lady Hawks at this year’s Relays includes cross-town rival Berry College, Clark-Atlanta, Southern University-New Orleans, North Georgia, Bryan College and Lee University.
In addition to those who will be representing their respective teams, the Relays will see a number of quality athletes who will be performing as unattached competitors.
Returning to Barron where she became a five-time NAIA national champion will be former Lady Hawks great Justyna Mudy, who is coming off a recent win at the Atlanta Half-Marathon and will run Saturday in the 5,000-meter run. Byrd also said that former Shorter All-American Oscar Ogwaro may also run.
With Shorter in its second year of a three-year transition process toward becoming a full NCAA Division II member, several standouts are being redshirted this season but will be hoping to stand in the spotlight Saturday competing in an unattached status. The list includes All-American and 400 NAIA national champion Randy Dameron, All-American sprinters Kirk Wilson and Bradley Moon, and transfer Stefanos Koufidis, who will become Shorter’s first-ever pole vaulter and won the NAIA indoor and outdoor national crowns in the event in 2011.
However, for Byrd and his coaching staff, the Relays will provide the opportunity to build on what is already a solid foundation and allow the program to hit the national ground running when Shorter officially becomes a full Division II program in 2014-15.
“Since this is a transition year, we’re using the Relays to help grow our team,” said Byrd. “We’ll get the chance to see all of them compete, from those who are redshirting to all of the younger kids, who will help us grow as a Division II program.”
This year’s Relays begin at 11 a.m. with the field events taking place. At the Throws Center, the men’s hammer throw will be held, followed by the women’s throw; the men’s and women’s discus starts at noon; and at 1:30 p.m. the men’s and women’s shot takes place at Barron at 11 a.m., the field events being held in consecutive order will be the women’s and men’s long jump; at noon the men’s and women’s high jump and women’s and men’s pole vault; and at 2 p.m. the women’s and men’s long jump.
The action on the eight-lane, Beynon-surfaced 400-meter John Maddox Track gets the starter’s gun at 11:30 a.m. with the women’s and men’s 3k steeplechase in consecutive order, a sequence that will be followed throughout the day in the 4x100 relay, 1500 run, women’s 110 and men’s 110 hurdles; 400; 100; 800, 400 hurdles, 200, and the 5k run, with the 4x400 relay scheduled to close out the event starting at 4:20 p.m.
Following the Relays, the season gets busy for the Hawks and Lady Hawks. Next weekend, April 5-6, the teams head to Auburn, Ala., to take part in the Tiger Track Classic, then goes north to Knoxville, Tenn., for the Sea Ray Relays on April 11-13.
On April 19-20, Shorter is back at Barron to host the Peach Belt Conference Championships, the conference the Hawks and Lady Hawks will be a part of since the Gulf South Conference does not have track but, unlike the university’s other teams that compete in the GSC, will be eligible to win Peach Belt titles.
That conference meet will be followed by another one a week later on April 26-27 when Shorter, which will not compete but is a former member, hosts the inaugural Southern States Athletic Conference Championships.
All of the competition leads up to Shorter’s national goal when the Hawks and Lady Hawks travel to Joliet, Ill., on May 2-4 for the NCCAA Outdoor National Championships.