Alex Franklin was only about 5 years old the first time he lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with other runners and felt his heart race as he waited for the sound of the gun. It was the Ashland All-Comers Track Meet, circa 2006, and Franklin was set to run the 200-meter dash — quite a stretch for a little guy still working on his ABCs, but Franklin was excited.
He was excited because at the All-Comers, his speed would be put to the test in front of parents, peers and official-looking adults and teenagers with measuring tape, megaphones and ribbons. And he was excited because among his opponents that day was his friend, Ian Rinefort.
And though Franklin, now a 16-year-old senior-to-be at Ashland High School, doesn’t remember every detail about what happened that July night at the AHS track, he most certainly remembers what happened next.
“I beat him,” Franklin said, “and that was kind of a big thing for me because he was fast.”
Eleven years later, Franklin and Rinefort would make up half the Ashland High School boys 4x400-meter relay team which placed third at the OSAA Class 5A State Track & Field Meet, May 20 at Hayward Field in Eugene — Franklin ran the third leg and Rinefort the anchor. It was an epic day for the longtime friends, but for Franklin the long road to the Hayward podium began more than a decade prior at Robert W. Julian Track & Field, which is why he’s decided to revive the All-Comers Track Meet for his senior project.
“Basically, the only thing I’m worried about is a lack of people showing up,” said Franklin, who’s aiming for at least 50 to 60 participants. “Everything else I basically have got planned, as long as people actually commit to their word and help out. Sometimes that doesn’t always happen.”
The meet, last held in 2010 before a lack of volunteer support forced it to be discontinued, is free of charge and will be held Monday and July 24 at the Ashland Middle School track, starting at 6 p.m. each day. The All-Comers, as its name suggests, is designed to accommodate all ages with an emphasis on youngsters, and will include running events from the 50-meter dash up to the 1,500 and four field events — the javelin toss (using foam javelins), the shot put (softballs), the long jump and the high jump.
All the events will be judged for places and measured by a cadre of volunteers Franklin has managed to round up — those who would like to pitch in can call Franklin at 541-324-7962 — and ribbons will be awarded to first- through sixth-place finishers (others will receive participatory ribbons). Though Franklin has taken the lead in reviving All-Comers, the meet director is none other than Robert W. Julian, aka Bob Julian Sr., the man who started the All-Comers some 30 years ago and for which Ashland High’s now closed-down track is named after.
The event’s purpose, consequently, is twofold: to foster a love of track and field while bringing the community together; and to raise awareness for the AHS Track Restoration Fund, whose goal is to raise $500,000 by the end of summer to replace the AHS track surface and foundation. The track has been closed since a risk management company determined it was unsuitable for use May 17. The fund has brought in $315,000 at last count. Those who wish to contribute can visit www.ashlandschoolsfoundation.org and click on the “Restore Ashland Track” icon.
Franklin’s inspiration for rebooting the All-Comers was the All-Comers itself, he said, but it was a similar track meet organized by a South Medford High School student last year that piqued his interest in taking on a similar project at AHS. The South Medford meet seemed to target teenagers, Franklin said, and was fairly competitive. Comparing the meet to his memory of the All-Comers, Franklin quickly decided the model Julian put in place decades ago was the iteration he would attempt to recreate.
“Mainly because it would bring a lot more people from the community out,” he said. “If I had done it just for my age group we would only have like 10 to 20 kids. That’s what happened at that meet. So If I had all ages it would be a lot more fun and better for the community.”
Only four months ago, in April, Franklin began working on the project. In early June he took a major step when he set up a meeting with Julian and Wendy Siporen, another Ashland track supporter whose son, Wyatt Thompson-Siporen, participated in the All-Comers long before qualifying for the 2015 state meet in three events as a senior. The three brainstormed what it would take to get the meet going again and laid out a plan of attack.
“It was really nice to have (Julian’s) help because he knew exactly what races, age groups and all that stuff, so that helped me a lot,” Franklin said.
“I think it’s great,” said Julian, who retired from coaching in 2001 and made a brief return as Ashland High’s interim track coach in 2008. “I would like to see them start it up again (permanently). I thought it was a great community event and hopefully by next year we’ll be doing it on a new track — then we would continue it for sure.”
Franklin learned from Julian that All-Comers used to be an Ashland Parks and Recreation summer program, a partnership that covered for Julian the cost of ribbons and liability insurance. Julian called the Parks department to try to rekindle that agreement and was told it was too late for this year, maybe next. Julian called AHS athletic director Karl Kemper next and the two worked out a deal: so long as the event was labeled a fundraiser for Restore Ashland Track, the district could provide liability insurance and allow it to take place on school property. That’s why those who show up Monday will see volunteers handing out brochures and accepting donations, and that’s also why the official name of the event is the Ashland Schools All-Comers Track Meet.
Franklin’s been responsible for promoting the event, reserving the site, finding enough volunteers to run the meet, purchasing the ribbons with donation money and, of course, will be at AMS both days to make sure everything’s running smoothly.
To get the word out, Franklin made a large banner and some posters he and volunteers held up while marching in the Fourth of July Parade. During the march, they also handed out 500 silicone wrist bands — half were embossed with All-Comers what/when/where specifics, half with Restore Ashland Track information.
“I think after that parade and all the kids getting the bracelets, I should have a good turnout,” he said. “But that’s basically my only worry.”
Franklin won’t learn how successful his promotional campaign, which also includes a Facebook page, has been until Monday night. Until then, he still has a few items to cross off his to-do list. He was supposed to fill out the paperwork to secure the site Thursday, and that paperwork requires the signatures of two administrators. He’ll also be borrowing a couple water jugs so the kids can stay hydrated. And he’s hoping to set up a snack table. And several of his Grizzly teammates have agreed to help run the event, but what if one or two don't show up?
Details, details. But the biggest one by far, to Franklin at least, is the public’s response.
Julian isn't sure what to expect, but thanks in part to a high schooler's desire to give back, he's excited about the potential.
“At one time it was a great community event, with lots of folks,” he said. “Parents would come down and set out their blankets and bring their kids. And actually, the big age group was from 3 to 10 years old, and the kids would come down in droves with their families and they’d be collecting ribbons.
“You’d have 2-to-3-year-olds out there and the parents would be at one end of the 50 meters and the kids would be going in every which direction. It was just a lot of fun.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.