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Local athletes petition for public access to school tracks

Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 18:23:19-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Laced up, and stretched out, Matt Crowe preps for his daily run at Estero Community Park Tuesday afternoon. He runs about 100 miles a week to condition for the big day in June, when he’ll try out for a 10k shot at the Olympic Trials.

The grassy field at the park will do, but he’d rather run a mile away at Estero High School, with a real track.

“The problem for us is that track use right now is seen as private, even on these public facilities that are paid with public tax dollars,” he said.

That’s why he signed a petition, requesting Lee County Schools open up their tracks to the public. It already has more than 1,000 signatures. He says it’s not just for him, but student athletes in community leagues who could benefit from the tracks, too.

“If they can get public track use, they can get more accurate measurement. They can get better coaching. Really just produce that one or two percent boost that they’re looking for,” he said.

In a statement, however, the school district said access to tracks means access to buildings:

“Students are on campus or using the facilities for 12 hours a day or more during most of the school year. The security of the school campuses would be compromised after hours or on weekends by allowing public access and there is the issue of responsibility should an injury occur.”

But, Crowe points to schools like Cypress Lake High School that has a track separate from the school.

“Their fence system is already set up to let people use the track and leave, and still be fenced in from the kids,” he said.

He also said safety is a concern for people running on the street. Florida ranks top ten in the nation for pedestrian deaths according to the latest data by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. But, at school tracks, Crowe says runners won’t have to constantly look over their shoulders.

“They don’t have to worry about safety. They can just focus on running fast,” he said.

A spokesperson for the district said pretty soon the public can pay for track access, stating, “Once we resume normal operations school facilities will become available again for rent through our website.”

Crowe says at $114 an hour to rent certain tracks, it’s just too expensive. Crowe and fellow athletes are bringing up their petition at the school board meeting Tuesday night.