West Muskingum hosts first home track meet


By Staff Report

For an entire generation of students entering West Muskingum Local School District over the past two decades, the idea of having a track and field for home competitions, as well as for practice, was all but a lofty dream.

That changed in 2017 when after the hiring of the district’s new superintendent, Chad Shawger, the Light the Hill Committee embarked on its third phase of fundraising, this time to fully fund a new football field and track.

While completed in the summer of 2019, the pandemic canceled the 2020 track season, and on the last Tuesday in March, for the first time in roughly 15 years, West Muskingum athletes got to enjoy a home-field advantage.

While many area districts are known to carry over millions a year in cash balances, including Tri-Valley with over $13 million, West Muskingum had only one-third of a million dollars or 2.2 percent of yearly cash expenditures and the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

That situation, which was previously reported on by Y-City News, places the local district in one of the most dire financial conditions, unable to raise local tax dollars to fund its operation, dependent on state aid for a large portion of its spending.

In the early 2000s, the district implemented a ‘pay to participate’ program to help keep sports financially viable, but it was unpopular with area families, in April of 2016 the board of education voted unanimously to end that practice for the upcoming fall school year.

The West Muskingum Athletic Boosters and the West Muskingum Athletic Committee were instrumental in helping raise both the monetary and in-kind donations which totaled nearly $1.4 million.

In recognition of that support, the district named the site the West Muskingum Athletic Boosters Complex.

As fate would have it, on that Tuesday evening on the second-to-last day in March, four West Muskingum student-athletes would win the first race, a 4 by 800-meter boys relay.

Andrew Edwards (Sr.), Kaleb McFee (Jr.), Byrce West (Jr.), and Ty Shawger (So.) came in first place in what they all described as an incredible honor.

“It feels pretty good,” said McFee who explained how thankful he was to win the district’s first home track meet in nearly 20 years. “It’s just really amazing to be here.”

Every West Muskingum athlete Y-City News spoke to during the three-hour competition against Tri-Valley and Zanesville said they felt a sense of pride being able to finally host other area schools.

For others such as parents, siblings, relatives and friends, many of whom are alumni of the district, witnessing a home meet after such a long period of time made the donations and efforts worthwhile.

Superintendent Shawger said having a new football field and track is a huge accomplishment for the district and places them in a stronger position to both retain student-athletes from leaving on open enrollment and attract others from neighboring districts.

“We basically went through a whole system of kids, a generation of students here at West Muskingum who never got to run a home track meet,” said Shawger. “To be able to do that for these kids, we hope it will increase our program numbers and revitalize the track program long into the future.”

While football was able to still be played on the district’s prior grass field, the track was in such a shape of disrepair that students were unable to practice on it, requiring an offsite location, which Shawger added likely is the reason for lower track participation numbers.

The Superintendent also emphasized that the entire project was fully funded by the community and that those investments will benefit at least the next few generations of future students.

“If it wasn’t for our booster organization and the community donations that we received, this all wouldn’t be here,” said Shawger. “Our district is funded a little differently and we weren’t able to put school dollars or community tax money into the project.”

At the end of his interview, Shawger said he wanted the community and everyone involved to know how thankful the district is for the support of their athletics programs and that he encourages everyone to come out to the few remaining home meets this year.