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Top United States runners competed at Loran Douglas Field in Newberg on July 31

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND TRACK CLUB - Three-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury was among the athletes to compete in the 'Big Friendly' meet at Newberg High School on July 31.

Providing a rare glimpse of sports during a time when many athletes are sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Newberg High School hosted a track meet on July 31 at Loran Douglas Field. The meet, the third in a series of "Big Friendly" meets hosted by the Portland Track Club during the pandemic, drew more than two dozen elite professional athletes to the local track.

Ten days prior to the event, NHS athletic director Tim Burke and his staff were tasked with helping host and organize the meet, which is the first sporting event to occur on campus since February. Full COVID-19 precautions were in place, including testing leading up to the event for the athletes and staff, temperature checks at the gate, masks worn by all when not competing and social distancing in areas other than the track itself.

"(Portland Track Club) originally approached George Fox about the possibility of having a competition there," Burke said. "They would bring in some of the top athletes from the U.S. and hold a certified track meet that consisted of four events. Fox agreed initially but could no longer do the event, so they approached us and we were able to host it."

The Newberg event was the third in a series of Big Friendly events hosted by PTC in Oregon this summer. Others took place at Jesuit High School and in Eugene, all with COVID-19 protocols in place and no spectators in the stands. NHS was locked down with nobody besides the event organizers and athletes allowed in.

Among the athletes who participated were three-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury and Donovan Brazier, the American record holder in the outdoor 800-meter race. Events included the 800, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races, along with a 4 x 400 co-ed relay. Brazier ran a world-leading 1:43.84 in the 800, showing off his blazing speed to a number of NHS athletes who lined the fence outside the facility at a safe social distance.

The event itself took a lot of planning and precaution, Burke said, but it went off without a hitch.

"To make something like this work, you have to have a rail on the inside lane of the track, otherwise it's not a certified meet," Burke said. "So they managed to get the old track rail from Hayward Field at University of Oregon, and they installed it on our field. After a few other adjustments, our track was ready to host this.

"They were super excited about bringing these elite runners in and doing so safely. Our track coach, Brandon Ramey, and Bruce Sinkbeil, the cross-country coach, played huge roles in getting this thing organized. It was really exciting for the school and for our athletic program, especially in a time where there aren't a lot of sports going on."

Burke said he was glad to help out the Portland Track Club in the endeavor and added they took COVID-19 safety "very seriously." Given that no outsiders were allowed in and the athletes came in without spending extra time in the community, risk of transmission was "close to zero" given the precautions taken.

The moment — for those in attendance and the handful of youngsters gathered outside the fence — was special for Newberg, Burke said.

"The difficult part was locking down the facility and not letting anybody in, and we managed to do that without issue," Burke said. "When the thing started and the lights were on at the field, some people started to come to the outside of the fence and watch. Some of them were our track kids who got to witness top-level athletes compete on their home field. Think of the things they could be doing on a Friday night and they were choosing to come and watch elite runners in their sport from a safe distance."

Those interested in watching video recorded at the event can find it at www.youtube.com/channel/UCo5TE6wpU50kREWVbRdKnOQ. Coverage of the results of the event and Brazier's success can be found at www.flotrack.org/articles/6764726-big-friendly-3-recap-donavan-brazier-cracks-143-opener.


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