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The Best Places to Play : If You're Involved With a Spring Sport, These Facilities Are Where You Want to Be

June 03, 1997|PAUL McLEOD

These are the venues that are often taken for granted.

They may not be perfect, but they are certainly rich in character, style or story. If they're not the best facilities available for Orange County high school athletic programs, they're certainly not the worst.

Track and Field Trabuco Hills

A decade ago a handful of coaches representing a variety of sports stood on a hill overlooking the ridge that would become the athletic stadium at Trabuco Hills High and made a decision.

"The operating word was accommodate," Mustang girls' track Coach Jack Recla said. "We agreed. What was good for one was good for the other. We knew this would be a one-time opportunity."

What came out of that beginning and other meetings was a picturesque, 5,000-seat facility like no other in the county: A football field wide enough so players don't tackle opponents into long jump and triple jump pits; a soccer field with touch lines that meet international standards; a state-of-the-art running surface that has engendered national records.

There are other things as noteworthy.

The twin humps of Saddleback Mountain rise into the sky at the open southeast end. And because spectator seating was designed not to affect views of neighbors, runners often say they feel as if fans are on the track with them.

"People in the stands can actually talk right with the starter," Recla said.

To allow for a wider football/soccer playing surface, the long jump runways--140 feet for boys, 120 feet for girls--were placed at the southeast end of the stadium behind football goal posts. The pole vault pit is below that in a tightly-packed jumping area adjacent to the parking lot, which often fills to over-capacity at major games and meets.

In fact, school district officials are reviewing parking options to alleviate congestion on neighboring streets, where spectators routinely ignore posted signs that ask them to refrain from parking in residential areas.

The high jump pit at the northwest end of the stadium is directly below a cactus and chapparal-covered hill inhabited by rattlesnakes and rabbits. Sometimes creatures venture into the stadium, but no one has been hurt by them. Recla said that if he had it to do again, he would reverse the locations of the high jump and long jump areas to make more room for both.

Some agree with him.

"Trabuco Hills has this four-inch cement thing around it and you always wonder if you are going to fall and hit it," said senior El Toro high jumper Elliott Parks, the county record holder. He has jumped as high as 7-2, but says that he struggles at Trabuco Hills.

Still, it is the 400-meter oval running surface that has drawn rave reviews. Built by the same designer who constructed world-class facilities at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut and the Coliseum, the track is made up of a 60/40 blend of polyurethane and hard rubber granules. The mix is widely praised by runners, who say it results in faster times.

Also helping times, the final straightaway and finish line on the south side of the stadium puts wind at runners' backs.

"This is a great track, the way it was built just makes you go faster," senior distance runner Jason Manhart of Trabuco Hills said.

Recla said when the school district was considering plans for the facility, the decision was made to go full bore.

"We had the opportunity to build a training track or go with one that would produce fast times," Recla said. "We elected to go for the fast track [at a cost of $300,000]."

It was an opportunity of a lifetime, one the county isn't likely to see again for a long time.

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