April & May are annually the most hectic months here at T&FN, and when you combine the peak of the U.S. season with our changing over to a fully digital product you get utter chaos. And you can miss important dates.
Case in point: April 19 marked the 50th anniversary of my first visit to Eugene, way back in ‘68. Or, more properly, first visit to what is now known as Historic Hayward Field. “Historic” wasn’t part of the lexicon at that juncture, and probably didn’t yet belong, given that to that point Oregon had hosted only a pair of NCAA Championships, no Olympic Trials (other than a separate decathlon meet) and no USATF Championships. Things obviously underwent a sea change shortly thereafter.
A redshirt-soph triple jumper of no particular distinction, I was in town with my Washington State teammates for a dual meet against prime rival Oregon, prepared to hate the Ducks for all their worth (even if Oregon had been the only other school I considered attending).
But being much better as a fan than I was as a competitor, I couldn’t help but be taken by Hayward the minute we walked in. Even if by then, 49 years into its life, the old barn was already showing its age. But it was a track stadium! I had never seen—or even dared imagine—such a thing. There were no goalposts, no sign of football at all. And there were actually fans in the stands… for an afternoon workout session.
There were many more fans in the stands for the next day’s meet. Probably no more than 5000 (an astounding number for a dual meet by today’s standards) but certainly the most I had ever seen at a meet. So many were they, and so passionate were they for their beloved Ducks that I actually felt almost intimidated. The concept of “home & away” was something I had felt as a high school basketballer, but at a track meet?!
But I digress, as I wallow in memories, as people of a certain age are wont to do.
In the subsequent years, given all the meets that I’ve been to at Hayward in various capacities—fan, journalist, on-field gopher, Olympic Trials marks verifier, announcer—I figure I’ve made the 450-odd mile journey from Silicon Valley to Eugene at least 75 times. My memories are many, but I shan’t bore you with them here, because most of them are ingrained in the psyche of you, dear reader, and all hardcore fans. And they are so legion that I couldn’t possibly pick out a favorite. (I’d love to hear from the readership their picks, though.)
And now it’s time to bid farewell—barring some shocking last-second change in construction plans—to Hayward as it has come to be known and loved. Not that the fabled venue hasn’t already undergone other serious modifications through the years.
Given my many years of attachment to attending meets at the iconic venue, you might think you could count me among those ready to chain themselves to the East Grandstand to save it from the wrecking ball, but I say (already creating enmity among some I call friends) they can’t tear the whole place down soon enough. I’m sadder to see that construction requires pulling down a couple of vintage elm trees on bordering Agate Street.
But they’ll grow back, in some fashion. So will the affections of fans both current and future as Nike money—and make no mistake, all this will clearly be The House That Phil Built—helps fund what projects to be unquestionably the best pure track facility in the nation. Indeed, in most nations.
What exists now is not remotely one of the best facilities. Truth be said, Hayward Field is well past its sell date in virtually all aspects, be you a fan, athlete or official.
But there are two things that prop it up as still the best place in the country to watch a meet (and isn’t that still the bottom line?):
One is a large and informed fan base. Of course they’re Duck-biased, but that doesn’t stop them from going over the top for a good performance when they see one, and they know when they’re seeing one better than any other crowd in the country.
Two is the unstinting loyalty of the Oregon Track Club, which for decades has provided an infrastructure that no other city in the country can match. Good officials, to be sure, but even more importantly, a massive army of involved volunteers who spend countless hours laboring in anonymity for little/no reward, even if the USATF people all too frequently accord them absolutely zero respect. This isn’t a new phenomenon and it may well yet come back to bite Indy in the you-know-what.
But that’s all background material. In the foreground all these years has been a Hayward full of vibrant and passionate fans who have cheered on multiple generations of athletes to over-the-top marks they may well never have achieved elsewhere. And they have been made to feel right at home, no matter where they are from.
We see no reason to think that Hayward II wont’ provide more of the same.
(ps—I’d love to say that the single point I tallied made the difference, but the final score was Washington State 77–Oregon 68) ▫︎