In just a few days, the Al B. Carius track at North Central College will play host for the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championship, a first for the 151-year-old institution.
But the dream of hosting the NCAA championship in the residential hall and recreation center began before the first brick was even laid.
Since awarded the bid, planning committees have been faced with challenges like fitting in thousands of fans, workers, coaches and athletes.
“This has the potential to have the greatest attendance than any indoor championship because nobody has a facility this large, much less with a third floor track above it,” said Jim Miller, Athletic Director, North Central College.
Even though Merner Fieldhouse was never home to an NCAA championship, the 82-year-old facility will still play a critical role.
“The athletes will all warm up in Gregory Arena,” said Miller. “They’ll warm up in there, they’ll stage in there and it will just be students and coaches.”
With the championship quickly approaching, the college is preparing a few last minute details.
“Mainly from a staging standpoint, making sure that this building has that national feel to it,” said Sue Kane, Assistant Director of Athletics, North Central College.
One NCC alumnus is using her experience at national meets to help plan the upcoming event as an NCAA intern.
“Being an athlete too, you just get a different perspective,” said Lauren Brightmore, NCAA Intern. “What did you like about previous championships, what didn’t you like? So from a facility standpoint we can figure out managing what’s best for the athletes. You’re trying to keep their best interests in mind because it is a championship for them.”
But it’s not just the college that will feel the impact. The entire city is getting ready for the influx of visitors to Naperville.
“The economic impact is well into the millions of dollars,” said Christine Jeffries, President of the Naperville Development Partnership. “It’s a huge fiscal benefit to the community, to our merchants, to our restaurateurs, it’s fabulous. Our hotels will be hopping.”
While the college and community are preparing physically, Cardinal athletes are preparing mentally.
“It takes away the nerves a little bit,” said Liz Composto, a Sophomore pole vaulter. “You’re not traveling. You’re not thinking while your getting there, ‘What’s the facility going to be like?’ You know what it’s like. The fact that there’s going to be so many people here to cheer on myself and the other competitors here from the college is just fantastic.”
Kane knows first hand what it means to the athletes to have the home field advantage. She competed in the 2000 outdoor NCAA championship, the ninth time North Central has hosted the event.
“For our own athletes to be able to compete, to have professors come down and our athletic administration and administration around the college, to have that home court feel, is just so exciting for the students and the entire community,” said Kane.
Officials hope all their hard work over the years will translate into a successful event, especially for the athletes. The women are looking for their first NCAA championship, while the men are hoping to keep the tradition alive and make this their fourth straight national title.
Final rankings and schedules will be available at ncaa.com following the last chance meet on March 2nd.
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