The first ever event at the newly installed Orange Bowl Track at Carter Park on Wednesday was a success.
The inaugural Fort Lauderdale Track and Field City Championships drew a large crowd to the park, upgraded with a $3 million project co-funded by the city and the Orange Bowl Committee and completed in January.
Both sets of covered bleachers were packed, and more spectators lined the fence to watch the meet, which included several personal records and some outstanding performances by athletes such as Dillard senior Shakima Wimbley, Fort Lauderdale junior Lamark Campbell and St. Thomas Aquinas junior Matthew Butler.
The eight-lane track itself drew rave raviews from competitors.
“I liked the track. It felt fast,” said St. Thomas boys hurdler Jordan Washington.
“The track is really nice and it’s a really fast track,” added St. Thomas girls hurdler Toria Levy, who had a personal-best time of 14.43 in the 100-meter hurdles. “I think the city championships is a great idea. A lot of the teams here, we don’t get to compete in the same districts so we usually don’t see them.”
“I think it’s wonderful,” St. Thomas coach Alex Armenteros said of the city championships. “Anytime you can put something together that brings the community together, it’s definitely a positive. If you look around, you see all the little kids, the parents, and it seems like everybody’s having a great time.”
Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler, a former high jumper at Cardinal Gibbons, spoke at a podium during opening ceremonies, and then stuck around the entire meet to hand out medals to the winners and pose with them for photos.
“First and foremost, again, thanks to the Orange Bowl Committee,” Seiler said, referring to the committee helping to fund half of the costs for the project. “We’ve said it before, but this would have never been possible without the generosity of the Orange Bowl Committee and their commitment to our community.
“When you look at this football field, it’s probably the finest athletic field in South Florida, combined with this unbelievable eight-lane track…we really appreciate the Orange Bowl Committee and the community pulling behind this thing. This has been such an unbelievable gift to the community. We need to do more of this stuff for our young athletes.”
Seiler added, “If we make this thing a tradition, people are going to want to be the city champion, whatever the event is. I think it’s going to increase the performance of all these athletes because they’re going to feel something special from that.”
Orange Bowl chief executive officer Eric Poms said the debut of the newly renovated Carter Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 5 was significant because “it was a dream that was coming to life,” but Wednesday “was a little more special because it’s being utilized by the neighborhood and the high schools in Fort Lauderdale.”
Added Poms, “It’s very gratifying. …You want to leave your legacy behind, not just in an economic development way, but to give back to the community in a positive way.”