Last month the Hopkins County Board of Education rechristened a facility that has had a long and illustrious history in our community.
The track on the north side of the current Browning Springs Middle School has been named Unity Park, which provides bleachers and an excellent space to park.
Unfortunately, the track had gotten into a state of disrepair over the past few years. Through the leadership of many people in the community, the track was refurbished and a paved parking lot was built.
The track’s days as a competitive high school track are long past, and today it is used more for adults and members of the community as a place to exercise.
However, the track has had a long and illustrious history in our community. When Madisonville High School opened in the late 1930s, the football field did not include a track inside it like many complexes today. The Browning Springs football stadium (the former Maroon Stadium) is a throwback to the days when high school football fields were very close to the stands.
There is some question as to when the track actually opened but The Messenger reporting at that time shows the football team played their first varsity game there on September 7, 1937.
Madisonville High School was coached by Ray Ellis at the time and defeated the Clay Red Devils 70-0 to christen the stadium in 1937.
Shortly after Madisonville High School opened, football and basketball games were played on the site but local historians do not remember the exact time the track and field complex was built, but have many great stories of its legacy.
Hopkins County School Superintendent John McClearn remembers that in 1948 there was only one athlete on the track team, but by 1950 there were two, and in 1955 two qualified for state- one being McClearn himself.
The track that you see today is certainly different on the surface than it was in the 1940s. The track was originally surfaced with coal cinders and is believed that the cinders came from boilers from what was then Madisonville High School.
The track was also the home to other sports. The football team did not like practicing on the main field and often used the track field as its practice facility.
When high school baseball first started in the late 1940s, the baseball team practiced there. The Little League program was run there by baseball coach D.O. Caywood in the 1940s.
A story is often told that Caywood would have young children fill up pop bottles with water from the spring in front of the school to stay hydrated during baseball games. This was the spring on Arch Street which was known as Browning Springs and from which the middle school is now named.
By 1962, the need for a paved asphalt track emerged and legendary and longtime head track coach, Bill George, developed a plan.
George developed the idea of having honorary deeds to the track which were sold for $3 a yard. Boosters and track athletes sold enough of the honorary deeds to have the track paved with asphalt in the early 1960s.
Another feature of the track over the years has been lighting issues as it was not as good as modern lights.
During the early years the track only had single pole lights on the straightaways.
In the spring meets when it would get dark, parents would line their cars up and shine their headlights so the runners would know where to finish the race.
In 1966 under hall of fame track coach Tom Mayes, there was believed to have been a world record set in the 880 yard relay.
However, it was later found out after much congratulations to the team that it was not a world record as the track was determined to be 20 yards too short of the 440 yard track.
Over the years the track has had numerous great performances.
In 1964 Bob Thomas won the Kentucky state championship and set a state record on this
track before he went on to a distinguished career at the University of Michigan.
Woodie Fox ran the hurdles before he also went on to run at Michigan, and Mike Wolford finished a hall of fame career on the track in 1972 before going off to run the hurdles at Delta State.
It was also the facility for many great track legends over the years including hall of famers Gary Crowe, Rob Sneed and Sonny Collins.
Many people remember Collins from his football days at the Maroon football stadium and the University of Kentucky. However, Collins was a state champ in the 100-yard dash.
In the 1980s Russell Badgett, Jr. took the track on as a special project and had it repaved.
For many years he was the backbone of the Badgett Invitational.
The track was also
home to many great female athletes.
Long before there were female sports such as basketball, soccer and softball, the major team sport for female athletes was track.
There were many great female track stars who got their start at this track including Ava Wilson, Anne Badgett-Smaldone, Stephanie Thomas-Taylor, and Diane Sherrod-Johnson.
Today the track looks as good as it ever looked and if you have the opportunity, thank those who have made this happen and try to go out and get some exercise at this facility and remember those who have been there before you.
Mr. Cartwright is a local attorney and contributing sports columnist. Email: email@example.com