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Smith Track and Field Celebrates 25

Members of Smith’s track and field past will gather on campus this Saturday, February 4, to celebrate the team’s 25th anniversary, as current team members host the annual Tartan Co-Ed Invitational.

In 1981, the same year the National Collegiate Athletic Association inaugurated its track and field championship tournament, Smith’s team shed its club status and joined the ranks of the college’s other 14 varsity intercollegiate sports programs. That year, the college also became the first women’s institution to join the NCAA, beginning its affiliation as a Division III competitor, as it remains today.

In 1981, Smith’s first 21 track and field competitors thrived despite having only a three-quarter-mile outdoor cinder running track to practice on. “We took advantage of the opportunity to travel over to Amherst College three days a week in our first season to run on their indoor dirt track,” recalls Peter de Villiers, professor of psychology and the team’s first head coach. “We would aim to arrive at Amherst at the end of their practice so as to not interfere with them. Nevertheless, in our first indoor season we had five runners qualify for the EAIAW (Eastern Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Division III Indoor Championships, where they performed creditably.” During the outdoor season that year, despite bad weather, six Smith records were broken and 10 athletes had personal best performances for their events, de Villiers says.

The program grew quickly from that year to the point that it became an expectation that several records be broken each year. During Mary Jane Grinaker’s 10-year coaching stint (1982–92), Smith tracksters went on a record-breaking assault, shattering 40 indoor school records and 54 in the outdoor season, not to mention 19 All American and five individual national championship honors. And the facilities improved.

The team kicked off the 1985 campaign with a new all-weather, 400-meter, eight-lane track, giving Smith the opportunity to host home track and field meets for the first time. The 1986-87 squad enjoyed the completion of the new Indoor Track & Tennis (ITT) facility, which housed a 200-meter, six-lane, Mondo Super X track that played host to the ECAC Division III Championships that season, at which Smith finished an impressive sixth among 30 teams. With Smith’s new track and field facilities favored by New England schools as among the best in the east, Smith continued to prove competitive and hosted the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Indoor National Championships the following year, and again in 1990 and 1996.

Following Grinaker’s departure in 1992, Martha Grinnell-Sorensen filled a one-year stint as the program transitioned into a new era. In 1993, that new era began when women’s track and field pioneer, Carla Coffey, took over. Coffey has twice been named New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Coach of the Year (1997 and 2004), has coached three student athletes to NEWMAC Athlete of the Year honors (Teresa Winstead ’97, Amy Saari ’98, and Sara Lewicke ’02,), 10 who have received one or multiple NEWMAC All-Conference honors, and 10 All American honorees.

Last year’s track and field squad reached many of its goals and gave consistent performances, including a 13th place finish in the New England III Indoor Championship and 24th place finish at the outdoor championship.
Optimism abounds as the 2006 team seeks to improve upon last season's fourth-place finish at the NEWMAC Championship.

On Saturday, some 40 alumnae and past coaches will return to Northampton to celebrate the team’s silver anniversary. The event will kick off with a fun run around campus that may includ a detour around the same three-quarter mile cinder track that served as the program’s original training area. A nostalgia brunch in Ainsworth Gymnasium will follow while, down the hall in the ITT, Smith Track & Field present will compete in the Tartan Invitational. The event will close with an evening reception and dinner at the Smith College Club, with track and field members past and present.

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