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The Wait Is Over

Coach’s persistence pays off as Evansville adds track and field

“Through the years, I asked all the different presidents and athletics directors about this issue,” says cross country coach Don Walters. “I had my doubts that this would ever happen.” UNIVERSITY OF EVANSVILLE PHOTO

Don Walters is going to need new business cards.

After 17 years of waiting, the longtime University of Evansville Purple Aces men’s and women’s cross country coach can add men’s and women’s track and field coach to his title. Walters joined the Evansville athletics department in the summer of 2000, and for years he constantly lobbied the powers that be about adding the programs.

His patience was rewarded in October, when the Indiana school officially announced it would be adding indoor and outdoor track and field teams for both genders starting in the 2017-18 academic year.

“Through the years, I asked all the different presidents and athletics directors about this issue,” Walters says. “We finally got the right athletics director in Mark Spencer, who is outstanding. I had my doubts that this would ever happen.”

Walters said the track and field teams were close to being added in 2005 and 2008. Both times, the initiatives fell through and left him disappointed. Through this latest process, Walters prepared himself for something to go wrong, but this time his desire of adding track and field to the Evansville athletics department came to fruition.

“We had to go through so many meetings to get this done,” Walters says. “Mark (Spencer) had a meeting with the board of trustees, which was the final step. To me, talk is cheap, but when I finally saw it on paper, I just said, ‘Wow!’ The doorway to Mark’s office is about 7 feet high, and I’m only 6-1. But my head swelled up so much that it almost hit the top of that doorway.”

Evansville will practice and host home meets on local high school tracks when the programs begin competing.

Walters already has a jump on some of the equipment he needs to start the program. In 2008 — the last time Evansville almost added track and field — he found out that Indiana State University in Terre Haute was resurfacing its track and replacing the mats used for pole vault and high jump competitions.

Walters ventured to Indiana State and loaded the old equipment on a trailer by himself.

“I couldn’t find anyone to help me, so I had to do it alone,” Walters says. “I had a 24-foot trailer, and a 1-ton truck that I have. After I stacked the mats, they were about 12 feet high. I rolled them, mounted them and then tied them down.”

Walters says he must have looked like a semitrailer going down the road. He ran out of gas and had to call a friend to bring fuel. Somehow, he managed to haul the equipment back to Evansville.

When he arrived back on campus, he found out the trip was for naught and the track programs would not start. Walters stored the equipment in a warehouse with the hopes of unpacking it the day Evansville started its track programs.

That day is officially on the way, and Walters can’t wait to begin.

“I’ve already been receiving calls from people who want to run at Evansville,” Walters says. “My email is totally swamped. It has been unbelievable.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.