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Host with the Most

Events give opportunity to showcase first-rate athletic facility

Interior of the Indoor Athletic Facility during an event

(The Indoor Athletic Facility hosted eight track and field meets in 2022-23, bringing 5,543 athletes to Washburn. Among those was the NJCAA national championship, which had more than 700 participants, their coaches and fans from across the country. Photo by Gene Cassell)

From The Ichabod - Spring 2023
By Chris Marshall

After the nation’s top track and field stars reach the peak of their junior college careers, they need a good place to land. That was one of the many benefits when Washburn University hosted the NJCAA track and field championships March 3-4 at its Indoor Athletic Facility.

The meet attracted more than 700 athletes and many more fans, family members and coaches to Topeka. It also gave Washburn the opportunity to show there’s no better place for runners, throwers and leapers to plant their feet.

Cameron Babb, Washburn track and field coach, was on hand the entire weekend to ensure the event operated smoothly. Every time someone sees the facility, he said they walk away impressed.

Sprinters running a race in the Indoor Athletic Facility

( Runners compete during the NJCAA national championship this March in the Indoor Athletic Facility. Photo by Jared Hitchins)

“So many people came up to me and asked if we’d host again in the future,” Babb said. “A lot said, ‘You should host every year,’ because it was better than any facility they’d been to recently, it provides easy access to any team and the meet was run well.”

The event gave Babb and his staff a firsthand look at up-and-coming track and field stars, while also giving the competitors a chance to see a state-of-the-art venue that is among the nation’s best for NCAA Division II – and even many Division I – programs.

“Last year’s recruiting class was the strongest we’ve had because we started hosting high school meets here,” Babb said. “This year, we’re excited for the same reason: we’re getting exposure when kids come see it, compete here and witness what a great facility we have. On top of that, the school itself is great. People realize if you want the best of both worlds in academics and athletics, you can come to Washburn.”

A Washburn jumper competing in the Indoor Athletic FacilityThere’s been no shortage of activity since the Indoor Athletic Facility opened in November 2020. Washburn hosted the MIAA indoor track and field championships that winter and will again in 2024. In three seasons, the building has hosted more than 12,000 athletes. Babb said the hope is to eventually host an NCAA Division II national championship.Every visitor also contributes to the Topeka community by staying in hotels, eating at restaurants and shopping at local businesses.

“We work with a phenomenal group of people at Washburn,” said Sean Dixon, president, Visit Topeka. “I’ve gone to a couple of meets now, including the junior college championships, and it’s put Washburn, the indoor facility and Topeka on the map for many to see. It’s always a great economic impact if you can bring a group of 700 people into any city.”

Dixon said visitors spent well over $300,000 in Topeka the weekend of the event, and the average hotel room rate surpassed $100.

“That has a significant impact on our tourism market, especially when you pair it with other things happening in the city, like the demolition derby we had at Stormont Vail Event Center and high school wrestling and other tournaments,” Dixon said. “The track and field championship was a cherry on top of a very busy weekend. This facility is a gem for us.”

The space is put to use just as frequently in between events, not just for track and field but for all of Washburn’s outdoor teams as well. The baseball team, for example, plays its season February through May, and is able to conduct practices during the late-winter weather conditions.

“Our outfield grass is treacherous this time of year, so it’s a blessing for us to be able to use the indoor facility,” said Harley Douglas, ba ’02, Washburn baseball coach. “We can practice with a live game going on inside, with a pitcher throwing on the mound against live at-bats. I don’t think a lot of teams get that chance. Being a northern team, we have to go south in February to play games, and it’s always been hard going against warm-weather teams that have seen live pitching all year when we hadn’t. Now we have access to that.”

When events like the NJCAA championship are held in Topeka, the dynamic is reversed. Teams like New Mexico Junior College and South Plains College (Texas), which claimed national titles at the NJCAA meet, came north for the winter to compete in the home of a blossoming track and field program.

“Recruiting-wise, it doesn’t get much better than walking into a $21 million facility,” Douglas said. “It shows Washburn’s commitment to athletics. Being an alum, Washburn was easy to sell to recruits anyway, but now, the chance to showcase a facility like this makes it that much easier.”

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483
Email: contactus@wualumni.org