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Ashland High celebrates grand opening of new Robert W. Julian Track

ASHLAND — Hans Voskes, Ashland High’s decorated track and field coach, had every one of his student-athletes sit on the track just as they do before each practice.

Under the warm afternoon sun, Voskes didn’t have any pre-training words of wisdom. Instead, he instructed them to put their hands on the track and then listen to the man with the microphone in his hand.

“Last year at this time, if you attempted to do this, you’d be sitting in, basically, a dirt road,” Voskes said. “It was terrible.”

“Terrible” is no longer a word that can be used to describe where those same Grizzlies run.

Wednesday afternoon signaled that, for the first time in over two years, a track meet took place on the Ashland High School. With it came the official re-opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Robert W. Julian Track, a project that saw a community rally together to raise close to $400,000 and give current student-athletes a high-quality place to run rather than try and dodge chunks of track that were no longer in place.

“I could not believe that in this short of time this community could get together and do this,” Voskes later said. “Seriously, think about how quickly this got done.”

Julian, the track’s namesake and the man who has fired the starter’s pistol at every Ashland High track meet since he retired 17 years ago, was nothing but a walking and talking bundle of joy from the moment he arrived on campus a half-hour before the ceremony got underway.

“A year ago, the track was literally in pieces and unusable,” said Julian, adding the last time the track was resurfaced was 2003. “We’ve been trying to get this going for several years now. This track belongs to the alumni and the community because they did it. It’s a miracle to see this here because it looked like it wasn’t going to happen and there was no way we’d raise that kind of money before track season. But this thing was laid down in late fall.”

The new track, which was completed in the fall so that there wouldn’t be any construction issues once the early-winter rain arrived, cost $360,000 and was installed by Tualatin-based company Beynon.

A total of 260 donors contributed to the fundraising effort — something that is still ongoing to continue funding improvements to upgrade and modernize the infield of the track. Ashland athletic director Karl Kemper quipped during the ceremony, “Hans likes to say that it’s track and field, not just track.”

Neil and Elizabeth Holland, the parents of AHS’ standout sophomore distance runner E.J. Holland, were one of two families honored by Kemper as driving forces in the fundraising effort.

Neil Holland credits both Julian and Jim Williams for “doing the lion’s share of the fundraising” with both local business and Ashland High alumni, while the Holland family worked with more “family and friends, neighbors and the like.”

The most impressive part of it all: The fundraising effort — which saw the Holland-Williams combo partner with the Ashland Schools Foundation — took of all five months to hit its goal.

“It was kind of a three-legged stool, and if it hadn’t been for the three legs, I don’t think we would have gotten it there,” Neil Holland said. “Bob and Jim were absolutely amazing in their ability to reach out to donors and alumni and get a big emphasis on the larger donations that we were able to get and built to get across the finish line.”

As Julian noted, it didn’t matter if it was a $5 donation or something pushing four figures, every little bit helped.

And the result is something that will last beyond just this year’s senior class, one that was also honored before the track meet got underway.

Even though the Grizzlies have been practicing on the new track all season, Wednesday was all about officially have track and field events back on campus.

“It’s enormously important,” Neil Holland said. “We’re a small area in southern Oregon, but we’re very competitive. We have some of the best athletes in the state in both track and field, and for them not to have a place for them to train and workout hard was a competitive disadvantage to them. Now, they feel good about coming down here.”

After two years of waiting and a whole lot money raised, the Grizzlies have a track to call home again — officially.

It just so happens to be a new and much improved version of the old one.

“It’s one of the nicest tracks out here,” Julian said. “You look at that record board, the oldest record there is from 1946 — George Fullerton held a national record in the mile and it was at this track. We’ve got so many state champions and we’ve got some big names up there.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.