TSTCA's Winter Plans Still Up In The Air

"We're trying to get something done. I know all of the teams are out running and practicing."

It might be difficult to find a better summary of the state of indoor track in the midst of a global pandemic than that one from Ed Helbig of the Tri-State Track Coaches Association (TSTCA).

With COVID-19's impact on everyday life closing in on a full year, schools in western PA are putting together plans for Polar Bear meets as OK'd by the PIAA but still holding out hope for indoor meets that do not include out-of-state travel.

Helbig and the TSTCA member schools are waiting to hear from Edinboro University about the chance for a meet or two at their go-to (and only) venue for almost the past decade - the Zafirovski Sports and Recreation Center at the PSAC school in the northwest corner. Helbig said this week that back in December he presented a plan to Edinboro officials for an indoor season amidst the pandemic. The proposal included all of the existing state-mandated COVID-19 protocols.

"Luckily, Edinboro has been very, very good to us and let us use it," Helbig said of the "very positive relationship" that saw its first meet undercover back in 2011. "I understand that. It's their facility."

Dave Higham, Edinboro's athletic administrative coordinator, said the university is still weighing the TSTCA proposal as its spring semester started this week. A limited number of students are now in dorms on campus, and only the Fighting Scots' wrestling and swimming and diving squads are competing this winter. School officials noted that other teams are practicing during the week but that the dome could be available on weekends, which are regular TSTCA meet days.

Prior to establishing Edinboro as its indoor destination, TSTCA had meets at the University of Pittsburgh, Slippery Rock University, Robert Morris University and Ohio's SPIRE Institute.

The most recent year where indoor meets were hard to come by for the TSTCA and its schools was 2014. In its third indoor season solely at Edinboro, the TSTCA had to cancel both of its January meets and a Valentine's Day weekend meet as heating issues plagued the six-story-tall dome. The TSTCA season that year consisted of just one regular meet and then the championship competition the week before the season wrapped up with the PTFCA state meet.

In 2020, one meet was scratched due to weather, but the West had five meets plus the championship gathering before the global pandemic ground life and most sporting events to a halt.

"I'm glad we got last year in," Helbig said.

First inflated in December 2008, Edinboro opened its dome in 2009. The facility has been the host of TSTCA meets since January 2011, with that indoor season's championship meet there as well.

In February 2020, Edinboro announced plans to take down the recognizable structure and replace it with a "more permanent" facility. Contacted this week, university Deputy Communications Officer Chris LaFuria said plans for the bubble are "on pause," with a timeline not yet known.

LaFuria added that more analysis of the dome is occurring, with engineering consultants brought in to evaluate the structure's conditions and what repairs might be needed. Edinboro officials are still awaiting results of that work.

LaFuria also noted that although Edinboro's winter sports schedule has been curtailed due to COVID-19, the facility is used by other EU teams as a practice and competition venue, with ADA and Title IX impacts also to be considered.

With the future of Edinboro's indoor track uncertain, the next home for TSTCA meets could be much closer to Pittsburgh and the core of the association's membership. A year ago, the University of Pittsburgh unveiled plans for the Victory Heights initiative, an endeavor that would include an eight-lane, 300-meter track. Also, a sports training business has broken ground on an indoor complex near Pittsburgh International Airport that is to include a 300 oval.