By NOAH FLEISCHMAN Daily News-Record
Aug 21, 2023 Updated Aug 21, 2023
Walk into James Madison’s newly-renovated Convocation Center, and the new volleyball floor steals the show as it’s sunken in the middle of the facility.
But look around the perimeter of the main level, and there’s a three-lane 200-meter track that goes all the way around.
Along with everything else inside the 41-year-old building, the track is brand new with a state-of-the-art surface to help JMU’s track and field team practice in inclement weather.
Not only does a track sit inside the Convo, but a full-length long jump pit and pole vault area both sit on one end of the track.
And the team’s locker room and offices? Those are inside too.
For second-year track coach Delethea Quarles, who arrived in Harrisonburg from Liberty, which has its own dedicated indoor facility, the Convo is evidence that JMU’s athletic administration wants to excel in everything, not just football.
“This states there is a commitment,” Quarles said. “That’s what you need to be successful. But no, it’s huge. It’s really big. I think it’s major for any university to commit at this level. For us coaches, it’s a tool for us to win.”
Before the Convo’s renovation, which was completed in late July to the tune of about $22 million, JMU’s track and field team didn’t have anywhere to train indoors on campus as one team.
They had the ability to rent space at Eastern Mennonite and the Virginia Military Institute, both of which required a vehicle ride to get to practice. And the team’s locker room sat inside Godwin Hall but shared the bathroom and showers with the other programs that also had space inside that building.
In addition to those two schools providing space for the Dukes, the track and field team also utilized the small indoor turf field at Sentara Park and gymnastics rooms for various events.
“At times, that was challenging to be in a lot of different places at once, according to the event area,” Quarles said. “So it was a little juggling act, but we were able to still be successful.”
But now, that problem is solved, and the track and field and cross country program has the biggest locker room within the building, which also houses field hockey, lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball.
As Quarles talked inside her team’s new digs, a smile came to her face. Not only because the Dukes have a one-stop shop for their team — which also includes an equipment room, training room, and weight room — but also because the other sports teams surround them as they practice.
“It’s connectivity to the rest of the athletic teams, the other coaches, the other staffs now that we’re under one roof,” Quarles said. “It makes it more unified. I can walk out of my office and watch volleyball practice without feeling like I have to go to another part of campus.”
For JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne, the ability to solve the track and field’s problem of not having an indoor facility to train on campus is another product of the university embracing a well-rounded athletics program.
“They’re actually practicing in the worst months that we have here in Harrisonburg in the winter time,” Bourne said of the track and field team. “The things created by [the track inside the Convocation Center] are really special for them. I think, that coupled with the great facilities that we have at Sentara Park, people come from other institutions and go ‘What you guys have got is really phenomenal.’”
Quarles, who coaches a team made up entirely of women, noted that the commitment Bourne and his staff put forward helps create an even more equitable setting in Harrisonburg regarding facilities between men’s and women’s teams.
Of the seven programs that will utilize the Convocation Center, six of them are women’s teams.
“I think the NCAA does the best job that they can to try to make things equitable as far as sports go,” Quarles said. “When you have an administration that can commit to every part of athletics, it makes it a place that you want to come to, especially when a lot of other sports have rosters that are filled with women. There’s a commitment to women here, and I think that’s important.”
And as she stood near the long jump pit, which was covered, Quarles beamed about the team’s ability to out-recruit other programs around the state and in the Sun Belt Conference.
She said that not many teams in the conference have a facility like the one JMU built, so it will help give the Dukes a leg up on the competition facilities-wise.
Quarles wasn’t alone in that thinking, either.
Bourne, who’s looked around at the other Sun Belt schools’ facilities during football road trips, said he hadn’t seen any building like the one the Dukes constructed.
“I haven’t seen anything like this,” Bourne said. “You’d have to go to a Power Five school to see this kind of setting. Even then, some of them don’t have it. This really puts us in a league of our own. … We’re really a blue-chip, gold-star program, and I think this is just one more facility that proves that.”
And with a state-of-the-art building at the team’s disposal, pressure to win mounts, but Quarles, whose team finished tied for seventh in the Sun Belt Indoor Championships and ninth in the conference’s Outdoor Championships, was confident that results were coming.
“I think it gives us more things than what we need to be successful in this league,” Quarles said. “I doubt that some schools in our conference have what we have, which puts pressure on us to step up and make it happen. Last year was the first year in the conference, and now we get to be in here all fall to work it out and move up.”
Click here on DNRonline for full article: Renovated Convo Provides Stable Home For JMU Track And Field