Mercer to add women’s track and field to athletics

History is in the making this spring semester, as Mercer University welcomes a women’s track and field team.
A group of 16 girls expressed interest in being on the team.
Mercer’s head coach Ryan Bailey has been coaching Mercer’s cross country team for 11 years and will now coach women’s track and field in addition to cross country.
Tryouts have been ongoing and Bailey said, “It looks like we have some talent.”
Senior Winifred Kennebrew ran track throughout high school and will be a part of the Mercer team this spring. The sprinter is hoping to participate in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and sprinting relays including the 4×100 and 4×400 meter relays.
“I just thought that it would be a great opportunity to get back into it, and also we will be the first women’s track team at Mercer so it’s just mind-blowing to be pioneers of the sport,” Kennebrew said.
The new team members, combined with the current eight cross country runners will compete in track and field events.
A team must have at least 14 participants in each meet.
They also must attend at least six competitions to certify as an official NCAA track team.
With the number of interested athletes, plus the original cross country team, Mercer will have the appropriate number to compete by NCAA standards.
A complete roster is estimated to be finalized in about two and a half weeks.
“In all honesty, if these people can become eligible, pass their physicals and show me they can contribute in a positive way, we will keep them,” Bailey said.
Mercer’s cross country team has been running a full track season for the past few years, every spring, but they have not been sponsored as an NCAA team. As a result, they were unable to compete in the national championships. However, last month Mercer made the commitment to sponsor women’s track and field as an official NCAA sport.
The goal is to show participation as a team in 2013.
Mercer does not provide an outdoor track facility for athletes, so the team is set to practice at any local high school track that they can use.
Bailey anticipates that the biggest challenge that the new team will face is inexperience at the collegiate level of competition.
“Division I competition is pretty fierce and the standards are high depending on the meet you are attending,” Bailey said. “Finding people who have done it is not the issue, it’s finding people who have done it at that level or recently. Some of these girls are juniors and seniors. The issue is they haven’t [ran competitively] in awhile and are probably out of shape.”
The first meet that the Bears are set to compete in is at Savannah State on Feb. 23, followed by a meet in Charleston two weeks later. Those meets are appropriate to the level of experience that they will have.
The meets will be low key and generally attended by smaller schools.
“What I don’t want is to take people in their reformative stages only to get destroyed by an experienced champion. So I’m trying to walk a fine line with these meets,” Bailey said.
“I’m excited to get back into competition and see if I’ve still got it,” Kennebrew said.
According to Bailey, the very first recorded track meet was held on campus in the mid-1900s and included male and female participants. After that there are no records of women’s track participation until 1984. There was a women’s cross country team, but they could not get enough women to field a full team. Today, this is the first official women’s track team.
“It hasn’t been relatively long since we have had female runners on the campus. Women’s sports are just out of their infancy. American women didn’t compete in any distance above 800 meters in the Olympics until 1984,” Bailey said.
Now track and field is the highest participated sport in the country. Half a million girls competed in track and field last year at the high school level alone.
“This will be the very first [official] women’s track and field team we have ever had. It is a pretty exciting thing to start a program from whole cloth and be the foundation of a new athletic program,” Bailey said.