Wichita A new lane added to the track at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium will open competition to more student athletes but how many remains to be seen.
The extra lane has allowed officials to add two more competitors to each event at this year's state high school track and field meet, from 14 to 16.
That means that the extra lane on the track could add 250 to 300 competitors to this year's meet, depending on how many of those athletes qualified in other events, said Paul Palmer, assistant executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association who is in charge of track and field.
The meet traditionally drew 3,000 to 3,500 competitors when Cessna Stadium had only seven lanes.
It had an economic impact of $2.66 million on the community, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission revealed.
Including the families and friends of the extra competitors, adding Lane 8 was like bringing another convention to town, and it could add another $160,000 to the economic impact.
"That's a lot of burgers and a lot of gas," said Gary Musselman, KSHSAA executive director.
"It's certainly a sizable group," said John Rolfe, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Wichita Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We like to see those kind of numbers."
The lane was added last spring as part of the first phase of construction for the Levitt Athletic Complex, which includes renovation of Levitt Arena. Work on the track began immediately after last year's state meet.
In the past, the meet has taken only the top three finishers and top two fourth-place finishers from regional competition in each event in each class and each division.
With the extra lane, it can take all fourth-place finishers.
"It's very significant and very much appreciated by member schools," Palmer said.
It is also appreciated by athletes like Joe Leiker of Hayden High School in Topeka. Leiker is a senior who this year faced his last chance to get to state. He finished fourth in the 200 meters in his Class 4A regional with one of the two slower times in the regionals. He wouldn't have made it to Wichita without Lane 8.
"It's been a goal for me to get to state," said Leiker, who will bring his parents and sister with him to Wichita. "I was just happy to get to state any way I could."
Or take a freshman, T.J. Atwater, a Wichita East High triple jumper. Atwater's 41-foot, 3-inch leap in the Class 6A regional in Emporia was the lowest among fourth-place competitors. But he will be able to compete in the state meet and gain valuable experience for the rest of his career.
"It should be a good experience," Atwater said.
"It should make me be more prepared next year if I get to it again, make me know what I have ahead of me."
Sacred Heart High School of Salina had only one of its athletes qualified for the meet by finishing in the top three in its Class 2A regional.
But 200-meter competitor Bridgette Carpenter and the boys 3,200-meter relay team also will be in Wichita because of fourth-place finishes.
"It was a pretty big shock," Sacred Heart track coach Jon Hooper said.
"Everybody is really excited. One of the good things is, it allows me to take all my seniors to state."
Musselman said the state meet is run so efficiently that the extra competitors shouldn't lengthen the proceedings.
"Any time we can increase participation, I think that's a good thing for the sport," Heights High School track coach Steve Crosley said.