What will happen to Cessna?

Unless I miss my guess, I am thinking that news stories reporting that Wichita State University had received approval from the Kansas Board of Regents to raze Cessna Stadium caught your eye, too.

The only way I am wrong, I'm thinking, is that you are not connected to Kansas high school track and field - or you've never attended the Kansas State High School Track and Field championships, the largest state meet in the United States.

Cessna Stadium, in a word, is mecca for track and field in the Sunflower State. Most of us initially go to the meet to cheer for our sons and daughters or athletes from our school. We end up leaving in awe of performances by athletes from many other schools and many other divisions.

My own story goes like this: I was blessed to have three children to run in the state championships, spanning seven years. When my daughter finished her final race in 2017, I felt like somebody punched me in the gut.

It was like dating a beautiful girl (or boy) for seven years, and then one day you wake up and they are gone with no explanation.

News that Cessna Stadium will eventually be razed seemed, initially, to be another death blow for that old friend called nostalgia.

I decided to catch up with officials from Wichita State University and the Kansas State High School Activities Association to see if I could learn more about what taking down Cessna Stadium would mean for the future of the state track and field championships.

I'm sharing our communication below. In my mind, it's very encouraging to know what's going on.

First up, Brad Pittman, the senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations at Wichita State:


Could you briefly give me an explanation for why Cessna Stadium will be razed?

Pittman: Cessna has outlived its life expectancy for a steel structure of its magnitude. There has been significant dollars put into the stadium to keep it safe and significant resources will be required in the near future to keep it safe.


When will the demolition begin?

Pittman: No timetable has been set. No money has been raised for either demo or replacement. What happened in April was we asked permission from the Board of Regents to take it down. Beyond that, no plans have been set.


What is the university planning to do to replace the stadium, and what is the timeline for building a new facility? Also, will the new facility also be called "Cessna" or are you investigating other opportunities?

Pittman: At this point there are no plans or timelines in place. We are in the very infancy stage of this process. We have not discussed naming. Those discussions will happen at the appropriate time.


How will this affect the Kansas Track and Field championships -- both in the short-term and long-term? Is it possible that Wichita could still host the 2021 championships?

Pittman: It will have no impact short term. The plan is to host in 2021 and beyond.


Cessna has such a remarkable history in Kansas track and field, and many athletes, coaches and fans have many precious memories. Are there opportunities being considered to sell portions of the track or stadium for people to have as mementos?

Pittman: We have not had any discussions yet on demolition or plans to sell any portion of it.


As you look to the future, including the possibilities for the Kansas track and field championships, what excites you in terms of building the new facility?

Pittman: Until we have a discussion on the actual scope of what we are going to do, it would be premature to comment on this.


Also this week, I was able to catch up with Bill Faflick, executive director for the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Here's what he was able to tell me:


First, Cessna Stadium has been such an iconic facility for Kansas Track and Field for decades! What are your thoughts as Wichita State moves toward leveling that facility to build a new one?

Faflick: Cessna Stadium has been a great venue, Wichita State has been a great partner, and the Wichita community a great host for the state championship track and field meet. It is the only event with all 12 classifications competing for a championship at one site all in the two days, and Cessna Stadium allows the focus to be placed on those student athletes competing to fulfill their dreams. It has been the home for the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory, and hopefully the site for many more great memories. 


How will this affect the Kansas State Track and Field championships in the short term and long term, if known? Is it possible that the meet could be moved (temporarily) to a different location, or possibly split into two or three locations?

Faflick: In the short term, we anticipate limited change as our understanding is WSU still needs time to complete the process to design a new facility, develop the funding for all phases of the demolition and reconstruction, and to establish this according to a calendar which preserves their own track and field program and other university activities.

For the long term, we do not know the seating capacity of the new multi-sport facility or the design for the competition areas including all running, throwing and jumping events. If the new stadium is large enough, we will look forward to continuing to conduct this meet at WSU. If it is not large enough to support the meet, we will explore all options including possible necessity to separate the meet and compete in different venues. 

Can you tell me if KSHSAA has been involved in discussions with Wichita State University regarding future opportunities for the championships?

Faflick: Yes, WSU alerted the KSHSAA prior to publication of the Board of Regents agenda item requesting permission to raze Cessna Stadium. They have indicated interest in keeping the meet intact on their campus.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Faflick: The KSHSAA is committed to providing the very best competition opportunities and venues for the students in our member schools and we certainly hope it will be possible for the culmination of another successful track and field season, and school year, to be at WSU for our state championship meet.


From the e-Mailbag

Last week, I asked for feedback on how the pandemic has made athletes and coaches stronger. Well, my inbox was underwhelmed with responses - I received just one. But that one was Gold!

"This pandemic has made me faster. In this missing season I've learned how to set PRs on my own (or in a small group), without relying on the adrenaline of a big race. The biggest thing so far has been achieving my long time goal of running a sub 5 mile, and I went from 5:13 in 2019 (8th grade), to 4:55 this year (freshman)."

-- Travis Webster, Kansas City East Christian Academy


Now that's what I'm talking about...

Kansas track and field history

An abbreviated version this week of great moments from our state's high school track and field history:

Five Years Ago

* Rasheed Mcalpin of Shawnee Heights clocked 37.74 to edge pre-race favorite Noah Green of Blue Valley Southwest (37.80) in the state finals of the class 5A 300 meter hurdles

* Willie Morrison of Leavenworth capped a perfect season with class 5A state titles in the shot put (69-4.5) and discus (185-5).

* Isiah Taylor of Parsons challenged the 7-foot mark in the high jump, but settled for the class 4A state title and the best jump in the state (6-10).

* Leavenworth freshman Aarika Lister swept the 100 (12.04) and 200 (25.04) class 5A state titles.

* Freshman Molly Born of Shawnee Mission Northwest won her first class 6A state title, taking the 3200 meter run in 10:51.27.

* Christi Lemunyon of Blue Valley West soared 12-9 to win the class 6A pole vault, more than a foot better than anyone else at that year's state meet.

Ten Years Ago

* Four Kansas girls clocked sub-58 for 400 meters in winning their respective state titles. They were Allison Walter of Bishop Miege (56.27), Lauren Pickens of Peabody-Burns (56.58), Janessa Clay of Shawnee Mission North (57.16) and Hallie Kuhlman of Wallace County (57.85).

* Avery Clifton of Washburn Rural swept the class 6A 1600 (5:02.85) and 3200 (10:44.24).

* Kearsten Peoples of Ottawa posted dominating wins in the shot put (57-10.75, more than five feet better than any other division's state winner) and discus (166-7, more than 10 feet better than anyone else).

* Joe Fisher of Valley Center clocked 10.67 for 100 meters to win the class 5A state title in a photo finish over Morgan Burns of Trinity Academy (10.74).

* Adam Porter of McPherson pulled what some viewed as an upset in the class 5A boys 800 finals, clocking 1:54.97 to edge pre-race favorite David Thor of Bishop Carroll (1:55.37)

* An amazing battle in the class 2A boys triple jump: Tyler Barber of Herington won with a career-best 47-0.25, while Steven Mann of Jayhawk-Linn was second at 46-0 and Mark Riordan of Salina-Sacred Heart was third at 45-10. Those were the top three jumps among all divisions that year.