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Alumni outreach keeps track and field running

Ithaca+College+track+and+field+and+cross+country+hold+annual+alumni+events+multiple+times+per+year.+The+upcoming+Boston+University+Valentine+Invitational+on+Feb.+9+will+mark+another+event+that+will+bring+alumni+and+current+athletes+together.
Illustration by Grace Vanderveer
Ithaca College track and field and cross country hold annual alumni events multiple times per year. The upcoming Boston University Valentine Invitational on Feb. 9 will mark another event that will bring alumni and current athletes together.

Ithaca College prides itself on alumni relations years after a student graduates. The college hosts annual alumni weekends, invites alumni to speak to students about their field and successes, and provides a safe space where they are always welcome regardless of how long it has been since they have been students. Following in this spirit, the men’s and women’s track and field teams have gone to impressive lengths to harbor a strong tie between their current and previous athletes. 

When the Glazer Arena was built in 2011, women’s track and field coach Jennifer Potter ’92 and men’s track and field coach Jim Nichols realized they had an opportunity to host their own alumni event within the walls of the new indoor track. Utilizing their current athletes as mock-officials, the event is run annually as a real meet complete with check-ins, numbers and officially clocked times. 

Junior runner Christopher Licata said that alumni events were key to keeping the connection within the program and that the events are a great way to catch up with former teammates. 

“​​Having an annual alumni meet each year to kick off our indoor season is a pretty cool way to connect and share experiences between the different people the track and field program has had through its history,” Licata said. “It’s a really cool opportunity to catch up and reconnect with teammates who graduated ahead of us, as well as speak with alumni who are years out of college and hear about how the team was when they competed.”

After graduating, the opportunity to compete on the track is greatly reduced and a majority of alumni might think they would have to say goodbye forever to competition. It’s clear that these mini-meets reignite the fire of competing in these alumni and remind them of the power they still hold within them. Roosevelt Lee ’18 said via email that this aspect of the annual meet-ups is his favorite. 

“I get to experience the thrill of being able to compete again, especially with those I may have once competed with before,” Lee said via email. “I’m full of energy and excitement and having a good time. After the competition is done, I feel pretty beat up from doing so many events, but I end with a smile on my face as I take my cool down laps around the track.”

These events go beyond friendly competition, however, as both coaches donate their time, home and funds to create an environment that fosters the nostalgia of an alumni’s time on the track. They make shirts, provide refreshments and have even offered up their homes for barbecues after alumni get-togethers or the cross country alumni event that occurs in the fall. They even dedicate a portion of their events to “Will be’s races,” relating to the “Will-be-Bombers,” the children of the alumni and potential future track stars. 

As special as these events are for alumni and athletes, it also fills the coaches with a sense of pride and family. Potter said she had countless close relationships and memories with athletes that she still holds dear today.

On Feb. 9 and 10, qualifying athletes will compete at the Boston University Valentine Invitational. An extra layer of excitement is added when the athletes know that some of their alumni will be there before, after and during to cheer them on.

Sophomore runner Jessica Goode said it will be especially encouraging to have alumni in Boston there for the team.

“It’s a special meet since it’s all the way in Boston, Massachusetts which is a state that we never travel to for competitions,” Goode said. “Some of the top schools in the country from all divisions compete there. It’s definitely a full circle moment too when you see the bond that these alumni still have to the sport of track and field.” 

Potter stayed connected with alumni Christine MacKinnon ’16. MacKinnon eventually became one of the directors of the brand new New Balance Indoor Track Facility in Boston. Having this connection opens the door to bring alumni events to a whole new level, allowing alumni and athletes to get a private tour of the facility before race day on Feb. 10.

“This is one of the most premier facilities in the country right now, so I thought why not have an alumni event there?” Potter said. “We’d start in the restaurant attached to the facility, Broken Records, and Christine would give tours because it is just being opened and is the talk of the town.” 

It’s evident that once athletes join the track and field team, they are a part of a lifelong family that wishes to support all the following generations of Bombers. Alumni can give phenomenal advice to current athletes outside of their sport as well. Potter said that because of the impact alumni can have on current athletes, she encourages both sides to stay in touch with one another. 

“If I know an alumni was in the same major as an athlete, I’ll connect them because they may be a sort of resource later on,” Potter said. “This networking and connection with alumni is what makes Ithaca College so special.” 

In fact, Lee said he made such good connections with the current athletes that he decided to return to the team as a member of the coaching staff. 

“I think these events do improve the overall climate of Ithaca track and field on both sides because it allows current student-athletes to interact with past athletes and hopefully gives current athletes something to look forward to when they graduate,” Lee said. “It also shows that even though you may not be in the game anymore, you can bust out some old gear, dust off those spikes and have a good ole competition.”

Both Nichols and Potter have put in the work to forge long-lasting bonds with their athletes, as Potter said both current and previous runners have raved at the love and care they have continued to receive from them. Goode said some former athletes have even expressed their desires to race with their coaches, invite them to their weddings and set dates for lunch with their coaches after they leave the team. 

“I’m sure that after graduating, my relationship with coach Nichols will stay the same as he always tries to stay in contact with alumni of past track teams,” Licata said. “He sends out pamphlets or news about the successes of the team to alumni every so often and if any athlete returns to the cross country or track alumni meet, he makes sure to say hello and catch up with everyone who came to town.”

Both Goode and Licata credited aspects of their track knowledge and confidence to the alumni that they’ve kept relationships with. There are many recently graduated alumni still in the area to finish their five or six-year master’s programs that keep close ties to the athletes. One such relationship is one that Goode formed with graduate Paloma De Monte ’22. 

“Paloma is overall a fun person to be around and she is a shoulder that all of us can lean on when we are struggling with something or if we have any sort of question,” Goode said. “She has personally helped me before and after races and she is knowledgeable when it comes to mental health.”

Both the men’s and women’s teams have been training hard for months as they prepare for the big competitions at the end of the season. With Liberty Leagues in less than a month, the alumni event and the inspiration they spark are coming at a perfect time for these athletes. 

“We’re working like a well-oiled machine, the climate is awesome,” Potter said. “We’re a postseason team, I’m really excited to see what we can do. It’s coming together as it should.” 

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