Facilities have played a role in the Baker University track and field program’s success. Prior to 1923, however, they were quite primitive. Practices and sporting events were held as the Cavaness Athletic Park, a six-acre tract of land in eastern Baldwin City donated by Alphaeus Cavaness a poet, postmaster, and a member of Baker’s first graduating class in 1901. The site was used primarily for baseball in the early years, but the ground was leveled and a quarter mile running track was added in 1903. Over the years the park was surrounded by a wooden fence and updated with a grandstand.
According to Homer Ebright’s History of Baker University, the facility was not truly modernized until the 1920s when Emil Liston and George Bretnall took over the athletic programs. They re-leveled the old dirt track and turned into a properly draining cinder oval. Following the construction of the cinder track in 1923, the Baker University track and field team went on to place no worse than fourth in the conference over the next fifteen years. The next years, Bretnall and Liston established the Baker University Relays which became immensely popular.
Throughout the 1920s other improvements were added to the Cavaness Athletic Park including: additional land for football and baseball practices field in 1922; a large scoreboard at the east end of the field in 1923; and more room for parking in 1927. Despite these improvement most of the structures at the athletic park were still wooden. Work towards a more permanent grandstand, entrance, and fencing had yet to begin. Plans for them, however, began marinating in 1928. Like many peer institutions, the trustees proposed a memorial for the student killed in the Great War in the form of an athletic facility. One of these early plans called for a memorial arch, while others discussed a permanent fence and entrance. When the depression hit in 1929, these plans were tabled.
It was not until 1934 that work began in ernest on the permanent stadium. Funded predominately through alumni donations of money and material, and a group of 30 students trading labor for tuition, the stadium was gradually build over the next several years. Ebright explains that Liston oversaw the project and “worked untiringly during the hot summer months securing money, seeing friends for materials, borrowing tractors and cement mixers, and gathering all things required for the work.” The first section of the stadium was completed in the fall of 1935 and ground was broken for the second section during a celebration on October 12th. Kansas Governor and 1936 Presidential Candidate Alf Landon spoke at the formal ceremony helping to raise money.
The second unit was completed in 1938 and a memorial fence featuring pilars with plaques dedicated to the Baker students who died in the Great War soon followed in 1939. The stadium’s dedication took places on Armistice Day 1939 which included a parade, speeches by leading political figures and alumni, and a dinner leading up to an afternoon football game against Kansas Wesleyan. Although the game ended in a 7-7 tie, the event was a success.
By using both student labor and alumni donations, Liston oversaw the construction of not only a stadium and war memorial but also a monument that symbolizes the generosity and hard work of students and alumni during the Great Depression. Indeed, Ebright notes Baker University spend roughly $25,000 on the stadium project but because of donations its real value was over $50,000. Following the stadium’s completion the Kansas City Star described it as one of the finest stadiums in the Midwest.
In 1948, electric lights were added and a new electric scoreboard at the west end the next year. Predominantly used as for football, Liston Stadium (as it became known) received other improvements throughout the years such as a series of press boxes and locker room renovations. The track, however, remained largely unchanged. This is, perhaps, part of the reason why the program rand into trouble in the mid-1970s. Part of the reinstatement campaign for the track and field program in 1979 included fundraising efforts for a renovated track. Despite the fact that the University of Kansas rubberized it’s track in 1969, the Baker track remained cinder.
Even with the improvements completed in 1979-1980, the track remained cinder, but it did earn a new name. On October 13, 1980 the track was christened the “Warren E. Metzger Track.” Warren Metzger was one of the leading contributors to the financing campaign that led to the programs reinstatement and the facility’s renovation.
It was not until 1993 that Baker University had its own all-weather, rubberized track. Bill Hey, who competed in the hurdles for Baker University in the late 1940s and early 1950s, provided the leadership gift for the project. The resurfacing re-energized the program and contributed to increased success. All but four of the All-Americans in Baker University Track and Field history came after this date. University support also returned, as Athletic Director Charlie Richard was instrumental in bringing about the return of the Baker University Relays, which hadn’t been contested in 19 years. Following the project’s complete, Baker University also hosted the Heart of American Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships for three consecutive years.
Furthermore, many new school records were set since the facility was upgraded. A study published by Munasinghe, O’Flaherty, and Danninger, in the Journal of Political Economy, concludes that “technological change appears to be the chief reason why track and field records are getting broken as quickly as they are.” These finding hold true, as all but six of the current twenty-eight school records were set after 1993, further illustrating how an up-to-date facility can contribute to better performances. These benefits come in the form of improved athletes because of recruiting advantages and enhanced training conditions.
The facility was resurfaced once again during the spring and summer of 2006. After 13 years of wear and tear the track was in disrepair. The track and field teams had to move their practices so that the surface on their home track could be updated and an eighth lane added. The renovation project also included the purchase of new hurdles, relocated jumping pits and throwing venues, and an updated steeplechase pit. The football field was also converted to synthetic field turf.
The updated track and facilities have once again improved the Baker Relays and allowed Baker to host Heart of America Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships in 2007 and 2013. The facility has also hosted smaller meets and served as the site for Baldwin High School’s home meets.
Below is a slideshow of some other historic images of Liston Stadium and the Hey-Metzger Track.