Track team struggles after demotion

Varsity club has 47 fewer athletes and half as many coaches as last season

Some of the track and field team’s distance athletes warm up at the Kingston Military Community Sports Centre indoor field house before a training session on Wednesday night.
Some of the track and field team’s distance athletes warm up at the Kingston Military Community Sports Centre indoor field house before a training session on Wednesday night.
Photo: 
The track and field team had 91 athletes last season but only have 44 this season. They have gone from four coaches to two and don’t have any field athletes.
The track and field team had 91 athletes last season but only have 44 this season. They have gone from four coaches to two and don’t have any field athletes.
Photo: 

One of Queen’s oldest athletics programs has lost over half its members in the span of a year.

In September 2010, the track and field program was officially demoted to a Varsity Club. Since then, the team has shrunk from 91 athletes to 44, the coaching staff has dropped from four to two and the field portion of the program has been abolished.

The team practices four times a week at the Kingston Military Community Sports Centre (KMCSC) indoor field house. Almost 200 people fought for space inside the complex on Wednesday night, with Royal Military College’s intramural volleyball players filling the courts inside the track and rugby players working out around the perimeter.

About 25 members of the Queen’s track team gathered together at one end of the facility to use the track. They were permitted to use the three outside lanes from 8 to 10 p.m.

Steve Boyd became the cross country team’s head coach and the track team’s assistant coach in 2010. He was named head coach of the track program this fall after the team’s veteran coach stepped down.

Since Boyd is balancing two different programs, track practices only started after the cross country season ended in November.

“It’s not something we’ve planned,” he said. “It’s just a product of the demotion of track and the varsity status of cross [country].”

Boyd said since cross country has varsity team status and track only has club status, long-distance runners are first priority.

“We’re not officially a distance program, but ... we’re recruiting cross runners who are also track runners,” he said. “The [sprint] stuff will be secondary for the next couple years.”

The track team only has 14 sprinters, down from 31 last season.

Last May, former Olympic shot putter Melody Torcolacci stepped down as head coach of the track and field program, a position she’d held since 1988.

Torcolacci said the biggest reason she resigned was to teach full-time with the Queen’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies — but she also said she left partly because of the track program’s demotion to club status.

“Had the situation with track not changed, would I have made the move? Probably not,” she said. “If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have seen myself doing exactly what I was doing until I retired.”

Since Torcolacci came to Queen’s in 1988, she said she’s operated under an arrangement that split her time evenly between coaching and teaching. But she said recent changes to the program meant she couldn’t maintain the terms she wanted.

“With the reality of where the program was going, the opportunity [to stop coaching the team and move to full-time teaching] presented itself,” she said. “It was a natural process in that it doesn’t make sense to pay a full-time head coach when the program is a club program.”

During her 23 years with the track program, Torcolacci focused primarily on field and sprint events. She led the strength and conditioning program and designed the team’s weight program. But the program is moving away from her specialization.

“I had forecast the eventuality of a distance-only program in the near future and it is in fact heading that way,” she said. “When you’re keeping one portion varsity and the other portion not, then there’s a second-class citizen out there.”

The track team currently rents a portion of the KMCSC field house track on a yearly basis, but there’s no place in Kingston to train for field events. But Torcolacci said the program has had a long history of field achievements even without the necessary training facilities.

“We’ve had next-to-nothing for many years and still had success,” she said. “No long jump pit — we had a CIS champion and record-holder in the event.

“The argument that you have to have a facility to excel doesn’t work ... the limitation is your coaching staff.”

But Athletics Director Leslie Dal Cin said the lack of facilities was a major factor in determining the track and field team’s club status.

“With the delay of the field house component of the Queen’s Centre ... we don’t have a venue that we control for track and field,” she said. “We just do not have the ability to support the field portion of the event.”

Although the track and field program has shrunk since being demoted to a varsity club, Dal Cin said she still sees a solid future for the program.

“I don’t think it’s less of a priority,” she said. “But as a club, it’s a student-based initiative. The student leadership will make that program into what they want to be.”

Fourth-year sprinter Jennifer Barrow said she’s seen a decline in the sprint program since her first year with the team, claiming the number of coaches, athletes and training hours have all declined.

“This year, we didn’t start training until late October,” she said. “In the past, we’d be out as a team during Frosh Week.”

Barrow said Torcolacci’s resignation was especially significant because it coincided with sprints coach Sean McKillop’s departure.

“I thought she was a tremendous coach ... there was a lot of knowledge with her and [McKillop],” she said. “Now we don’t have weights incorporated into our training season this year.”

Gord Frenke was the sprint team’s captain last season.

“There hasn’t really been too much push by Athletics to find a suitable [coaching] replacement,” Frenke said. “Now that it’s a club, I don’t think people are as committed.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.