I returned to Shawnee Mission North district stadium and Merlin Gish Track Friday night for the final North relays held in the original stadium, built on an angle to run parallel with the Strang line many decades ago. I'm not happy about the progress. The track named for North legend Gish will be no more and Larry Taylor field is going away too. But perhaps when the construction is done and the new facility is opened, Gish and Taylor will regain their small measure of immortality. That will be decided later, but for now, the track was full of hopeful athletes from no less than 30 area schools.
The weather was perfect for a track meet: sunny and warm with no wind. There is the home side with the tiny press box and concrete stands and facade and the visitors side with the aluminum benches and the football locker room underneath. The place was full and my kids loved the commotion and the non-stop action of racing and associated field events. We sat in front of the pole vaulting. The class of '83 was represented not only by myself, but by Lance Balderston, on duty as an Overland Park policeman.
The complex will be torn down on Monday and a new modern district stadium will take its place, but it will be years before the ambiance approaches anything like what they have. I don't feel nostalgic about the bleachers. They aren't pretty. What made this stadium unique was its proximity to a grove of mature pin oak trees directly behind the home stands. No less than six of these beautiful ancient trees will be removed to allow for new construction. Seeing the trees with the orange X's was something I wasn't prepared for and I can't say I was happy about it.
In another shocking event, a young runner from Blue Valley West failed to clear her first high hurdle not 25 feet from where we sat and crumpled to the track in obvious pain. She began to bleat like a baby seal and I saw that her ankle was broken. This was not a green stick break. This was Joe Theisman rag doll style. We left as a throng of adults surrounded her until the ambulance arrived.