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Track meet took long road to Turlock

POSTED May 24, 2011 11:19 p.m.

Planning this week’s big NCAA Division II Track & Field Championships actually started five years ago, according to California State University, Stanislaus Athletic Director Milt Richards.

It was then that President Hamid Shirvani made a simple proclamation: that Turlock should be a college town. He said that a good way to make that happen would be to bring in sports and national championships – like the one occurring this week on the CSU Stanislaus campus.

The subsequent four years were all about the setup – in large part, the approval and construction of the new CSU Stanislaus Student Recreation Center track and field. But once the NCAA approved the CSU Stanislaus bid about a year ago, work kicked into high gear with a dedicated committee planning every detail.

“It’s really been a total collaboration with the university, the City of Turlock, the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the rest of Turlock to bring this event here,” Richards said.

The group hung banners around town and ferried every bleacher on the CSU Stanislaus campus to the Student Recreation Center. But most of the work came in preparing Turlock’s businesses for the event.

Now, over 900 athletes have booked Turlock’s 722 hotel rooms solid, with perhaps up to 600 rooms booked just because of the tournament. The CVB has resorted to posting available rooms on Twitter and Facebook, in hopes of helping last-minute travelers to Turlock.

Restaurants have been put on notice too. The CVB called each restaurateur within four miles of the university to let them know of the added business, not only from the tournament but also from Friday’s four high school graduations and CSU Stanislaus commencement.

Some of those restaurants are making special concessions to the competitors, staying open later and offering athlete discounts. And for good reason, as the CVB projects each competitor to spend $150 per day, factoring in hotel, food, shopping during tournament downtime, and entertainment.

Competitors will find out about those discounts in complementary goody bags, containing maps to restaurants and activities and free gifts, including local foods like organic nuts and chocolate.

“They’re going to be here, they’re going to see Turlock, they’re going to experience the Central Valley, and they’re going to have a great meet on a first-class track,” Richards said.

After all that planning, it all starts tonight with a kickoff banquet on the CSU Stanislaus campus. There, over 900 athletes and 300 coaches and associates will gather for a marquee event, with keynote speakers and coaches inducted into the hall of fame.

Tickets are still available for this week’s meet, which is “very crowded, but not sold out” in Richards’ words. For those who can’t make it down to the University, the event – and Turlock – will be webcast nationally live, as well as featured on CBS Sports.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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