For most school districts, an all-weather track can be considered a luxury item. I

For Tamaqua, it's been a $600,000 investment that has fostered priceless opportunities. N

Whether it be the school, its sports teams, the student athletes or the community, the benefits of the artificial rubberized surface has paid instant dividends. M

"It's certainly an asset to all of our athletic programs and a project that we've been very pleased with," stated Tamaqua athletic director Mike Hromyak. "Knowing the weather we have in northeastern Pennsylvania, especially in the early spring, not having an all-weather track was definitely a disadvantage to our student athletes." E

"Now, instead of running around on cinders and mud like we had in the past, they were able to get down there on the first day of spring sports practice and start preparing for the season." M

Tamaqua joins Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Northern Lehigh and Pleasant Valley as teams within the TIMES NEWS coverage area that have converted to an artificial running surface and is the eighth team (out of 13) in the Schuylkill League to have an all-weather track. O

"When we first started planning this project, we wanted to do it right," added Hromyak. "If we had the room, we wanted to install eight lanes so that we could afford our kids the opportunity to be involved in a home All-League meet and hopefully a chance at hosting the District championships sometime down the line, which is something you can't do with a six-lane track." R

Tamaqua got its wish as this year's Schuylkill League meet will be held at the Tamaqua Area Sports Stadium on May 11th. Y

In addition, the Blue Raider track teams will open their seasons with their first ever home invitational meet on April 1. O

The Tamaqua Blue Raider Invitational will feature 12 teams including Pottsville, Pine Grove, North Schuylkill, Blue Mountain, Jim Thorpe, Minersville, Mahanoy Area, Shenendoah Valley, Schuylkill Haven, Marian and Palmerton. F

"We're now able to bring the big events to Tamaqua, which was something we were never able to do in the past," touted Hromyak." J

"We're excited to be hosting these events and we're hoping that all the schools that come here have a good experience. I also think it's a benefit for all the other League schools that are coming to our Invitational because it gives them an opportunity to be on our track prior to the All-League meet." O

Tamaqua should take pride in the results that its new surface has yielded in only a year's time. With 76 kids out for this year's teams, interest in the sport is at an all-time high. E

In addition, the girl's team (7-0 last season) will be out to defend its Schuylkill League Division 1 Title and overall Schuylkill League Championship, while individually the Lady Raiders return two State medalists, including Allison Updike (Class AA State javelin champion) and Christine Streisel (5th place state medalist in the javelin). P

"We had good track teams before, but just being able to get out early to practice at a facility like this is a huge advantage," added Tamaqua track coach Tom Kanger. "This all-weather surface has decreased the amount of injuries and increased the performances of our kids, so its a win-win situation." L

"This is now the second year for us on the track, so we're expecting even better times, distances and heights this season." A

One unique feature of Tamaqua's track is its distinct blue surface. S

Installed by Lehigh Valley-based Grace Industries, the track was the first one in the United States to be that specific color of blue. K

"It's something that sticks out and is a trademark of our school," concluded Hromyak. "When people talk about our track, the first thing they talk about is the color. It's neat, it's unique, it looks nice at our facility and it's something that we're all very proud of." O