On the long drives to indoor track meets in Birmingham, Alabama, Tim Cummings’ son Levi would make his frustrations known.
“I wish we had something closer,” Levi often lamented.
That has been the reality of Georgia high school indoor track for the past three decades: it didn’t exist. The absence of an indoor season forced track athletes preparing for outdoor competition to attend out-of-state meets during the winter, putting a financial and physical strain on them and their families.
But Cummings — in his first year as track coach at Riverside Military Academy — hopes to reverse that trend and revive indoor track in Georgia, starting right here in Hall County.
On Jan. 21, Riverside Military Academy in its John L. Beaver Field House will host the state’s first indoor track meet in 31 years, Cummings estimated. He said longtime coaches he has spoken with aren’t sure of exactly when the last meet was held, but if anything, that’s a strong indicator of just how much time has passed since then.
“It makes me mad that we’ve got such a great track state, and we don’t have an indoor track facility, which is insane,” said Cummings, whose four children were all state champions in outdoor track and field events. “It has kind of been a burden of mine, maybe a vision of mine, because of what I went through with my own children.”
Many track athletes across the state share that experience. Take Noah Irwin, a sophomore at Athens Christian, who Cummings coached last year.
Irwin said runners who have to travel out of Georgia for indoor meets are often “already worn out” from the trip before they ever set foot on a track. More importantly, though, athletes can use their performance at indoor meets as a gauge for training.
“I feel like I end up doing better in track seasons when I get an early benchmark rather than later in the season during outdoor track,” Irwin said. “Having an indoor track season (in Georgia) will really fix that problem and give me a better chance to be more competitive in the upcoming track season.”
Irwin is unsure if Athens Christian will compete as a team at Riverside Military’s meet, which about eight schools have already signed up for, but he will at least run as an individual.
“I will get there, even if I have to run the whole way,” he joked.
The meet will be a trial run to demonstrate if Riverside Military’s indoor facility can handle the demands of a full-scale track meet. Cummings said GHSA officials have indicated they will support an indoor track season if the event is a success.
He’s adamant Riverside Military has the means to make that happen.
Though the facility’s floor is more like a tennis court and not the traditional rubber surface, the Eagles have had no problems running on it. Cummings recently uncovered a long jump pit and a pole vault box, both of which will be functional for the meet.
Couple that with the already existing bathrooms, locker rooms, bleachers, projector screen and camera well, and Cummings is confident Riverside Military could host a state championship meet.
“We’ve really got the infrastructure that we need,” he said.
But the school must first pull off the Jan. 21 event, which Cummings hopes will include 10-15 teams. His runners understand the significance this meet could have for the sport in Georgia moving forward.
“We haven’t had an indoor meet in Georgia since the ‘80s, so it’s pretty important,” said Brad Porter, a Riverside Military senior distance runner. “It could make history.”
Cummings’ mission to reinstate indoor track began when he saw Riverside Military’s facility. In fact, he said that influenced him to accept the job with the school after spending 35 years winning numerous state championships at Athens Christian.
Briefly after signing his contract with Riverside Military in July, Cummings posted about potentially hosting an indoor track meet on the Georgia MileSplit website.
“As soon as he saw this place, he was like, ‘There’s no reason why we can’t have an indoor meet,’” Eagles senior runner Brent Lowery said. “As soon as he got here at the beginning of the year during cross country, he came in and said he wanted to do one.”
Cummings said he received tons of support from coaches after his initial post and even more when he officially announced the meet three weeks ago.
Now he has a chance to permanently bring back indoor track, a change that would benefit athletes across Georgia. Cummings said Riverside Military could make an indoor season possible by hosting a meet every Saturday and a three-day state championship, but that possibility hinges on how smoothly the event goes Jan. 21.
“My ideal scenario would be everybody has fun, everybody competes and nobody gets hurt,” Cummings said. “Everybody says, ‘Dang, I didn’t have to go to another state. This might be something we can do.’
“Maybe we can plant a seed.”