IMG Academy Launches HS Track, Cross Country; New 5,000-Seat Track Stadium

In the heart of Bradenton lives a modern, expansive sports institution that attracts athletes from around the world. The facility started out more than thirty years ago as a tennis academy. Over the years it has added golf, soccer, football, and other sports. Since 2000 they have expanded rapidly and in part turned their attention toward track & field.

The sprawling 450-acre campus is owned by worldwide mega-company IMG, which boasts various sports enterprises from television to licensing to agent representation of some of the biggest celebrities in sports. The IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton features high-tech labs (Gatorade Sports Science Institute), the poshest playing fields and equipment, classrooms and lecture halls, dormitories, dining halls, clinics, pools, fitness center, and a spa. The sports facilities are astounding including 52 tennis courts, 12 soccer fields, baseball fields, batting cages, 18-hole golf course and driving range, two lacrosse fields, two practice football fields, four basketball courts, and a 10,000 square-foot weight room. It's actually kind of mind blowing, especially since most people outside of the area have never even heard of it.

For the last few years, some of track & field's most elite atheltes have trained here. That roster includes Lashawn Merritt, Dwight Phillips, Angelo Taylor, Demetrius Pinder of the Bahamas, Tianna Madison, paralympian David Prince, and others. These athletes have been coached by world-renowned speed and agility coach Loren Seagrave, who is the Director of Speed and Movement at IMG Bradenton. Some of the pros come in for short bouts of training or attending one of the many camps they host, while others (like Lashawn) are resident athletes.

Last month IMG broke ground on a new multi-sports complex that will include a state-of-the-art eight-lane track with 48-inch lanes, two long and triple jump runways, high jump pads, steeplechase pits, and two pole vault runways. Outside of the stadium will be a dedicated throwing area featuring two discus rings and cages--one will also serve as a hammer circle--javelin  runway, several shot rings, drill pads, and a small indoor drill area. The track & field facility is part of a much larger $36-million expansion project of which $12-million is going toward the multi-sports complex. The track is part of the new football stadium, which will also serve for lacrosse, soccer, and other international events. The stadium will initially seat 5,000 people with expansion plans to seat up to 10,000. It will have TV-ready lighting with an infield of Bermuda grass, overlooked by a large video jumbotron. The pressbox will be fit for broadcast television with coach, press, radio rooms, wired for timing computers, and hospitality suites. Below it will have multiple concession areas, and a box office. Adjacent to the track will be a 40,000 square-foot fieldhouse with multiple locker rooms, class rooms, lecture halls, and meeting spaces.

In addition to their work with professional athletes, the campus also hosts IMG Academy--formerly known as The Pendleton School--which is a college prep school catering to athletes. The campus has boarding facilities, with a new residence hall opening in June, vital in order to cater to a large international student-athlete population.

For the first time next year, the school will be adding cross country and track & field programs. As an independent member of the FHSAA, the team will be permitted to compete against other FHSAA schools but can not participate in a state championship series.

Despite so many other sports utilizing the facility, Coach Seagrave insists though that track & field athletes will not take a back seat. The stadium will be in primary use for track & field training purposes on a day-to-day basis; this is because there are separate football, lacrosse, and soccer practice fields on the campus. IMG hopes to make Bradenton a worldwide hub for track & field. They plan to jump through the hoops of receiving IAAF Certification on the track, which opens it up to host some major elite competitions. Entering the 2014 season they will host open and elite meets, perhaps partnering with the National Training Center in Clermont and Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar to make Florida a mecca for international level track & field by coordinating schedules to create a series of elite events.

But what about high school competitions? Seagrave said they are very interested in hosting several high school meets per year, hopefully including the Manatee County Championship. The state championship though may be out of their radar--at least for now.

"They have a great stadium at UNF with a beautiful warm-up track, fantastic seating... you never know but it's not necessarily what we're going for... but we'd like to offer up our facilities for various other events."

Seagrave hopes their offerings will be appealing to athletes in the state, as well as abroad, if not attending the school itself by taking advantage of the numerous camp opportunities they will offer. He believes the opportunity to train at world-class facilities with track & field elites will be an asset, but he also sees the other sports on the campus as an ideal co-habitation.

"I am a big advocate of avoiding early hyper-specialization in sports," Seagrave explained, "you don't want to have to pick a sport as a 12-year-old. It's important to try different activities. We will be able to pair various sports nicely with track & field. Many sprinters would be able to also work with Chris Weinke's football academy.... soccer players will cross over with cross country... some baseball players have expressed interested in trying to javelin...  basketball players could potentially be triple jumpers or high jumpers. We work nicely with other sports to create well-rounded athletes."

The prep school currently boasts 800 students (K-12), but looks to raise that increase that amount to around 1,300 in the next couple of years. Seagrave, who will be head of coach cross country and track & field, says the school boasts that 95% of their graduating seniors received college scholarships while 3% went straight to the professional ranks in their respective sports.

Clearly new facilities like this are certain a welcome addition to the state. With it we will see benefit not only to the sport but also the economy. Seeing Florida increase in its role as a primary training and competition ground for the best and brighest in track & field would be icing on the cake!

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