CENTRAL – It’s official – the name for Southern Wesleyan University’s new track is Joe R. Gilbert Track and Field.
The $1.1 million facility, which includes a 400-meter, eight-lane track surrounding the future soccer field, is located near the university’s entrance at S.C. 93. Also included are dual runways for the long and triple jump, two shot put rings, two distinct pole vault areas, javelin throw, hammer throw and a discus area, according to Greg Thiel, Southern Wesleyan’s head track coach.
“Today this track and field adds to the forward momentum of the growth of our university and to the NCAA Division II transition that we’re currently in,” said Chris Williams, director of athletics.
In addition to being of benefit to the community, Williams noted that future plans include hosting of high school track and field competitions as well as conference, state and national championships.
The new facility, now at the completion of its first phase, was named after the father of donor Cameron Gilbert, who is father to Shelby Gilbert, a sophomore on Southern Wesleyan’s Women’s Basketball Team – this year’s regional NCCAA Champions.
Cameron described his father as a Christian man who had a strong work ethic and a great love for his family – especially his grandchildren – as well as an incredible passion for higher education and collegiate sports.
Despite having only an eighth-grade education, Cameron’s father believed education is an equalizer. He added that his father missed only five or six out of Shelby’s nearly 400 basketball games while she was growing up.
“Dad would have been very happy and very proud that his granddaughter chose SWU,” Cameron said. “He would have loved the Christ-centered focus, focus on academic success, and commitment to athletics. I can tell you that Joe Gilbert would have been very proud to have his name associated with this university.”
University President Todd Voss said that members of Joe Gilbert’s family desired to honor him through the naming opportunity for the Southern Wesleyan’s new track and field.
“This is a new beginning in so many ways,” Voss said, adding that he welcomes citizens in the surrounding community to use the track for running and walking.
“Community involvement defines who we are in this project,” said Charles Joiner, who chairs Southern Wesleyan’s board of trustees. Town of Central Administrator Phillip Mishoe thanked Southern Wesleyan for including the surrounding community in their plans to develop facilities such as the track and field complex.
“I think other universities will look at this concept and wonder why they are not doing it,” Mishoe said.
Lisa McWherter, Southern Wesleyan’s vice president for advancement, thanked all who came forward to support the track and field complex.
“This is but one of many examples of how SWU seeks to be a generous university with God’s resources,” McWherter said. “This is His track and field complex, and because it is His, it’s our pleasure to share it with all.”
Tom Ponder of Pickens County Council recalled how, after hearing from Voss and Williams during a County Council meeting, they decided to back Southern Wesleyan’s efforts to become a NCAA Division II athletic program and to develop the complex.
“We have to make a decision on whether or not to invest based on the best needs of the county. In this situation, it was a no-brainer based on the vision and plan this university has for this facility,” Ponder said.
“What you guys have is not just a track; you’ve got a leader who has grabbed this university by the horns and taken you on a glorious trip,” said Trey Whitehurst of Pickens County Council,
“Thanks to your continued support of our athletic program, we’ve had the opportunity to begin our inaugural track season at SWU. If someone were to see our facilities for the first time, they would have never guessed that we were only a first-year program,” said Olivia Bush, a student-athlete on Southern Wesleyan’s Track and Field team.
During the ceremony, Cameron, Voss, Williams, Joiner, Mishoe, Ponder, Martin and Whitehurst took part in a ribbon-cutting for the new track and field complex. Also, Voss unveiled conceptual drawings of the second phase, which will include a flagpole plaza, perimeter sidewalks, press box and the first set of elevated grandstands. Phase three will incorporate a field house with team rooms, bathrooms and athletic training space, along with parking lot completion, field lighting and scoreboard.
With 15 intercollegiate athletic teams, Southern Wesleyan University is a current candidate for Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and is preparing to compete in Conference Carolinas later this year. They are also members of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCAA).