Loudon High School track open for community

Vicky Newman-News-Herald
Activity is more abundant these days at Loudon High School, and not solely because the academic year is under way for students. A new walking/running track at Loudon High School is getting Loudon residents - young and old - outdoors and active, and promoting healthier lifestyles for all.

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were conducted Tuesday for the $302,000 rubberized track that encircles the football field. The track project was completed at the end of July. When petroleum costs skyrocketed, Loudon County School Board members had voted in May to proceed with the more desirable rubberized track instead of making the track an asphalt surface.

The track surface was discussed by school board members at length last spring. Administrators pointed out a rubberized track would mean the school will be able to host track meets. It also would mean reduced risk of injury and less joint wear and pain for track users.

Primary funding for the track came from a $250,000 Tennessee Department of Health grant to prevent diabetes. The school board found the remaining $52,000 from other sources.

"Diabetes is rampant - we are in crisis mode with that disease," said Kathy Proaps, grant writer. "We needed to get projects going to promote physical activity and  good nutrition, to prevent the onset of diabetes."

Loudon County Schools' Office of Coordinated School Health began its Fitness Is Fun Initiative in 2008 with a focus on increasing physical activity and improving nutrition for students and families leading to healthier communities.

"Our goal is to encourage physical fitness, prevent childhood obesity, and promote healthy lifestyles in our students and their families, thus reducing the risk of diabetes," Proaps said. "This project is a collaborative effort with families and community partners. It is another important piece to the system's Fitness Is Fun Initiative."

Five schools in the district have started running groups, part of an organization called Girls On the Run, toward fitness. They will use the track for practice as well.

LHS Principal Cheri Parrish said the track already is getting lots of use by students. "We have 75 to 100 students out walking at lunch every day," Parrish said. "It's about the same group every day. This is a good thing for the community as well as the school. For the community, this is the only track on this side of the bridge."

Parrish said community members were welcome to use the track anytime during the day, if it is not in use already. The track closes at sundown.

Retired LHS football coach Bert "Chig" Ratledge opens the track every morning at 5 a.m. so early risers can walk at daybreak if they wish. He said he is hoping the new surface will get additional people walking. "I've been doing this for four and a half years, and at various times in the past, we've had 30-something walking. We don't have as many now. Some can't walk. I hope this will bring them back out. The rubberized surface makes it real soft. I'm hoping we'll have a new attitude toward walking."

Jason Vance, director of Loudon County Schools, said he is appreciative that the district decided to rubberize the track, rather than going with an asphalt surface. "As a former high school track athlete, I feel it is a blessing for our students to have this rubberized track, and I am thankful the school board wanted to go above and beyond with this project," Vance said. "It as a appropriate, and it is a really nice benefit for our students, Chig Ratledge's walking club, and for anybody that wants to utilize it."