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Runner’s group claims they weren’t holding a meet at Tokay High School track before closure

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Posted: Saturday, September 8, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:49 am, Sat Sep 8, 2012.

The runner's group that may have triggered the closure of the Tokay High School track against public use said they were not holding a track meet at all.

Katina Umpierre coaches a kid's track team based in Stockton. The Stockton Starz usually work out at St. Mary's High School.

"The athletic director has been very gracious to allow us to use their track. But there's certain times we can't, such as during their soccer games," she said. "That's when we bounce around to other places."

Umpierre has worked with her team at the Tokay High School track off and on since 2008. At that time, John Hunt was the track coach. He knew of their practices and had no problems, said Umpierre.

One day of practice in early June has raised some questions.

Art Hand, assistant superintendent of facilities and planning, said he received reports of an unauthorized track meet happening at Tokay High. In response, he ordered the gates to be locked and public access blocked from the track.

Umpierre's runners were the only track team practicing that day, but she says they weren't holding a meet.

Umpierre was approached by a man who asked if she had permission to use the track. She asked him to identify himself.

It was Louis Franklin, Tokay's football coach and athletic director.

Umpierre said she was told she could not return to the track after practice was over for the day. Other people were out walking, jogging and playing handball, but Umpierre did not see Franklin approach other track users.

"We didn't have a track meet. We were just out there working out, not holding any event. I felt like we were singled out," she said.

Franklin did not respond to questions regarding the track's closure, and directed questions to Art Hand, assistant superintendent of facilities and planning.

Hand confirmed there were others on the track, and characterized the Stockton Starz's presence as an "impromptu track meet."

Hand addressed several community concerns, including vandalism and use policies at other tracks.

There has been no direct vandalism, said Hand, but there was at least one group who entered the track after hours. On-site security was able to move them along before anything happened.

Runners and walkers also use the Lodi High School track. School officials cannot secure that track because of the fencing arrangement. The tracks at McNair and Bear Creek High Schools are completely secured, said Hand. All tracks are locked down by coaches as they leave after practice or by night custodial staff.

The Lodi Unified School District board of trustees voted to create a committee to find a solution for community access to the track. There is not yet a date set for the committee meeting to write up two options of resolutions for limited track use by the public. Hand said it will likely be next week.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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