Drop everything and go to a meet at the Mini-Dome

Tony Casey • Jan 21, 2016 at 8:41 AM

There was a special kind of feeling in East Tennessee State University’s Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center (the Mini-Dome) this past weekend, especially on Saturday, when event after event took place during the school’s “ETSU Invitational” indoor track and field meet.

As has always been the tradition for the storied squad of athletes through the years, there were fast times on the track and in the field events last weekend, but there seemed to be something extra. Nostalgia was a piece of this feeling — with many of ETSU and the region’s best athletes returning to take part in the meet and talk about times past — but there was also an excitement about the present, for both high school- and college-level athletes.

Because this meet welcomed and encompassed high school athletes who were competing in the Knoxville Youth Athletics Indoor Classic, too, many of the state’s and region’s best preps put up some of the top marks in the entire country. Marty Sonnenfeldt — whose son Daniel cranked out an 8:54 3,000-meter clocking competing for ETSU — was in attendance for Knoxville Youth Athletics. He joined the several hundred-person crowds in witnessing a meet that resulted in 20 U.S. top-20 U.S. indoor track and field marks.

More of this is expected at the Tennessee State High School Indoor Track and Field Championships on Feb. 27 in that same space, the Mini-Dome. This meet serves as the state championship meet, pitting the best qualified athletes in Tennessee against each other, again, right here in Johnson City. A general admission ticket to this meet comes at the well-rounded price of $10.

The local national beater, Milligan College, and many of the other top National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics teams used the Division I meet to familiarize their feet with the track’s surface, as the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships — yes, a national championship meet — will be held in Johnson City’s Mini-Dome March 3-5.

Milligan’s own Hannah Segrave, who’s clocked 2:06 for a half-mile, finds herself as one of the Southeast’s best middle distance runners. This past weekend, in the seeded mile, she breezed to what appeared to be an easy 5:06, behind one of Division I powerhouse Furman Unversity’s best runners and another runner from their post-collegiate elite teams.

Milligan coach Chris Layne acknowledged how at ease his top female runner looked in the race and expects big things as they move toward the championship section of the season.

Layne joined his Milligan team and their fans in one of the corners near the State of Franklin side of the Mini-Dome in cheering for their runners as they ripped around the 286-meter track.

ETSU greats Ray Flynn, Mark Finucane, Michael Walker Mansy, Ray Jones and Gerry Duffy were some of those in attendance watching the newest batch of Buccaneers run on the same track they ran so many times.

“I ran 4:04 one year and I was ETSU’s fifth guy,” said a marveled Mansy, who reminisced with Flynn about just how fast their distance runners were in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Flynn shared another mind-blowing piece of history, going back to 1985 when he once beat Americans Steve Scott and Sydney Maree to the line in the Johnson City track and field venue in 3:54. 

Maree, Flynn said, thought he’d won it at the line, and Flynn thought the same about himself, noting that legendary Coach Dave Walker, of course, gave his athlete the home track advantage.

In being a fanboy of the sport and these legendary runners, I can’t help but marvel myself — as ETSU’s head track and field coach George Watts has so kindly let unattached runners like myself run the same track with the collegiate athletes — that such fast time were laid down on the same track I run so unremarkably.

The fun isn’t over just yet this year for ETSU, who will be hosting one last meet on Feb. 5 and 6. If you’re interested in seeing your first meet or your 50th, you can find out more information about the Buccaneer Invitational meet here.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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