* A graphic showing indoor facilities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic -- Note: Virginia Beach's new center opens in 2020; Lehigh and PG Sports Complex are flat tracks.
By Cory Mull
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Chuck Klous was making a pre-road trip stop at Brew Haha Coffee in 2018 when he met local community organizer Greg Wilson and a big idea began to form that could single-handedly pump life back into the track and field community in Delaware.
At first, though, there was some light smack talk about football.
"He had an LSU shirt on and I'm an Alabama fan," Wilson said, "so I started talking."
When the conversation turned to track and field, Klous, the father of four children -- and four track and field athletes -- explained to Wilson that he was headed to Prince George's County in Maryland for the indoor state championships because Delaware did not have a facility of its own.
"I was incredulous," said Wilson, who then remarked how Delaware should build its own facility.
The pair ultimately decided on meeting again, where, eventually, the wheels started rolling on creating a non-profit that would advocate for Delaware's first state-of-the-art indoor track and field facility with a hydraulic banked track. Indoor Track Delaware was formed.
Since 2013 -- when the University of Delaware converted its Field House from an indoor track facility to a practice venue for all sports -- high school athletes from inside the state have had no available venue to perform against their peers in state competition.
And ultimately, that's meant fewer opportunities overall. It's meant that programs from inside the state have had to travel as far as two to three hours just to find competition in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York, among other states. And it's meant that the state's indoor state championship series has had to be held in Maryland, too.
The new facility, as ITD sees it, is a multi-million dollar 1,000-to-5,000-seat facility that can hold local, regional and state competition, maybe even national championships.
Since forming, ITD has hired a consulting firm from Utah, Victus Advisors, which has worked toward building a case study about the economic impact of the potential facility in Delaware.
You might think, Well, what's it going to look like?
But before any blueprints or fancy renderings get made -- and before a Request For Proposal (RFP) goes out to a firm -- first up is explaining to local government just why a track and field facility makes sense for the state. That requires a feasibility study.
"Indoor track and field has the highest participation rate in any sport in Delaware," Klous said. "I drive my kids 2,000 miles to compete within a give season. We all agree if this was soccer or lacrosse, there would be an enormous public outcry about the circumstances. Everyone agrees this is a good idea."
* A Tatnall distance runner competes at Prince George County's Sports Complex in 2019
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"We have early results and we know what the economic impact could be," Wilson said.
Wilson says he's traveled to indoor venues across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including The Armory in New York City and Ocean Breeze, and has even held discussions with officials in Birmingham, Alabama who operate the CrossPlex.
The market will only continue to get bigger, too.
In the coming months and years, new state-of-the-art indoor track and field facilities -- with hydraulic, banked tracks -- will open in Virginia Beach and Boston.
Wilson understands why these foundations are being laid: Over the last two years, $85 million in economic impact has been brought to Birmingham by virtue of events at the CrossPlex. A total of $5.4 million was earned over 4-days when the NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships was held there in 2019, he said.
Generally, financial data also reveals facilities with banked tracks and reasonable seating bring in more value than flat ones, too.
But Delaware still remains in an inopportune spot. Travel costs will still be signficant to those venues for state schools.
Since the University of Delaware's men's track and field and cross country programs were eliminated in 2011, the track and field community has suffered. Multiple campaigns have been lifted to try to save or re-energize the program.
But perhaps an indoor facility could boost the state's profile even more.
"We're a drive-by state," Wilson said. "Tourism drops in the winter and this can drive state dollars to Delaware."
Notably, a few key members of the track and field community were offered roles in the project. Anthuan Maybank, an Olympic gold medalist in the 4x400 from 1996, was made a Vice President of ITD, while an advisory council was started featuring noted Delaware track alumni like Cape Henlopen gaduate Kai Maull, a former All-American at Clemson.
"What's missing here is this: Track is a platform for education," Maybank said. "Achieving goals, setting, attaining and setting new goals help prepare kids with critical life skills."
Maybanks isn't just a strong professional influence inside the state, but he's also a coach. Over the past several years, he's said, he's helped sprinters from Tatnall earn NCAA Division I scholarships.
Maull is currently the head coach of William Penn High School in New Castle.
"When this project came about and I was asked to be a part of it, from that moment I was all-in," he said.
Right now, the group says, Indoor Track Delaware is still fundraising to generate the funds ($73,000) needed to allow for a feasibility study to be done. The non-profit created a virtual 5K which will run through October 31.
ITD, meanwhile, will continue to the work in order to generate the exposure needed.
Of course, there are still questions to be answered, such as who will operate the facility. Klous isn't sure of that just yet, he says, and believes a feasibility study will go a long way in determining how it will function from a public or private standpoint.
Either way, though, the ball is rolling.
And at least in his eyes, Maull said, he couldn't be more excited.
He still remembers what it was like to compete at the Delaware Fieldhouse two decades ago.
"If you took one step into Lane 6," he said, "you were leaning against the wall. In the long jump, I could spread my arms out and touch the brick wall. That's how close I was.
"But I remember the rush of being in that environment."
Contact Cory Mull at email@example.com or on Twitter @bycorymull