Jahisha Thomas-Iowa
©Jim Kirby

It’s Good Enough For the World, it’s Good Enough For the Hawks

Larry Wieczorek and Joey Woody ©Hawkeye Athletics

Larry Wieczorek and Joey Woody
©Hawkeye Athletics

If it’s good enough for the World Championships, it’s good enough for the University of Iowa. That was the thought going through Joey Woody’s mind in 2014.

Then an assistant coach with the University of Iowa track and field team, Woody made a casual inquiry to representatives from Beynon — the industry leader in sports surfacing — about facility renovations to the UI Rec Building.

Beynon, it turns out, had what Woody was looking for. The 2016 Track and Field Indoor US and World Championships were scheduled for Portland, Oregon, and Beynon was selected to build an indoor track for the event. What Beynon didn’t know was what would become of the surface after the event.

The University solved their problem by purchasing the Beynon, permanently banked 200 meter track, knowing right away, they wanted to make the Hawkeye program, and in turn, their home meets something special.

And they are off to a great start.

This season’s indoor schedule includes five home meets.  It started January 7 with the annual Border Battle with Illinois and Missouri. The Hawkeye Invitational was on January 14, and the Larry Wieczorek Invitational was January 20-21. The Black and Gold Premier is January 27-28, and the Iowa Open is February 17.

“This is what we wanted to do.  We wanted to bring Track and Field entertainment to the Iowa City community and give the crowd a unique opportunity to see world class athlete’s right here, “UI director of track and field Joey Woody said.

The UI Recreation building was electric for the finale of the Larry Wieczorek Invitational in a meet that saw career-bests, facility records, and a Hawkeye victory.  Just what the coaching staff and Event Management staff was hoping for.

“The atmosphere was awesome,” Woody said. “We want to continue to create a great entertaining atmosphere here for not only the fans but our student-athletes who compete in front of a great crowd.”

The Iowa men and women downed Iowa State, Florida State, and Northern Iowa and captured 14 event titles over the two-day competition.

If you are able to find time to attend an Iowa meet, you will notice a blonde, athletic looking (for good reason) young lady scurrying about with a clipboard in hand, a radio, complete with headset, on her hip.

This person would be Shawn Koeningsberg of Event Management at the U of I.  Having the former Shawn Shaddox at the helm is a huge plus as she has an extensive track and field background.  She ran both at Cedar Falls High School and UNI, specializing in the 400 hurdles and the 400 and 800 meter runs.  In addition, her mother was on the coaching staff at UNI during Heather and Joey Woody’s career there.  Heather was one of Shawn’s babysitters and Joey even showed up to help out on occasion.  It was this early exposure to our great sport that inspired her to be a track athlete and later have a career in managing some of the best college meets the University of Iowa has ever hosted.

I asked Shawn if she received any comments about the Iowa meets and the track in particular from visiting coaches, and here is a breakdown of her reply:

“When UNI and ISU came to their first meet here this year, they made several comments about how great our facility looks.   Coach Paulsen mentioned, at the Hawkeye Invite, that he usually tries to travel to different places so the athletes get to experience different venues but with a track in state like this one, there’s no sense in traveling far to get the times they desire.  The Iowa coaches have informed me that Florida State had really positive things to say about the meet. Great things about hospitality and the way things operated.”

For the 4×400, the final event of the Larry Wieczorek Invitational, the house lights were shut off and the relay teams were introduced under a spotlight after entering the track from the backstretch while their favorite “pump up” music blared from the Rec Building’s sound system.

I asked Koeningsberg how this “outside of the box” idea came about, and she said,

“From my understanding, Associate Head Coach, Clive Roberts has had this idea for a while.  During the middle of the week, Hawkeye throws coach Andrew Dubs informed me about the 4x400m introduction songs and the format they wanted to use.  He then mentioned the spotlight idea but figured it was too late to implement it, however, they were interested in the idea for the future meets.  I asked if this was something they wanted to do and if so, I would see what I could do (I also really liked the idea).  I mentioned I couldn’t promise it would happen so we determined if we could pull it off, we would make it a “surprise” for the rest of the coaching staff and student-athletes knowing everyone would enjoy it. Long story short, we made it work.  A plan that was enjoyable for everyone involved! “

“I didn’t personally talk to any of the student-athletes about the 4×400 but the amount of cheering from the student-athletes around the track and from the coaches to the left of me, I think they were really excited and “pumped up” which is exactly the reaction we were going for.  Also, from what I could see across the track, the majority of the fans rose to their feet for these as well.”

With a world class facility, and high quality home meets, I asked Koeningsberg if this has forced her Events Management crew to “step up their game, and she replied, “Absolutely.”

“Lake Kwaza and I were joking this morning about why we still carry our “Event Management” around because the binder (with information from last year) is definitely not accurate anymore as just about everything has changed.  The new facility was/is a challenge for our operations, especially not having a whole lot of time in the facility prior to our first event and then hit the ground running in January with every weekend to prepare for.  The biggest adjustment is the warm-up and team camp area and the most effective way to get the competitors to the start line come race time.  A few unique challenges we have this year is the set-up of different facilities, heat staging and escorts, and then communicating our operational plans with teams coming in each weekend.  We continue to make adjustments and feel more organized each and every week.  As difficult as this month may be (and as cliché as this will sound), the weekends are the “fun” part.  We get to see the hard work and plans unfold while watching the athletes focus on competing and enjoying their time here, it is just fuel we need for the next week as we prepare to be even better!”

We, Next Level Iowa, have talked many times about how fortunate track and field athletes in Iowa are to have the facilities that they have at their disposal.

We have Drake Stadium, The UNI Dome, Iowa State’s world class 300M indoor facility, now the world class 200M banked track at the University of Iowa.  Not to mention the number of 160M-200M indoor flat tracks and beautiful outdoor at D3 and NAIA schools around the state.