Slavin is haven to many runners

By Julie Barzilay

It’s been trampled on by the likes of NFL quarterback Matt Leinart and New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest. It has trembled under the erupting cheers and victory laps of excited elementary school children at their first-ever track meet.

And it has held firm as emergency helicopters used it as an impromptu landing pad. The school’s track and field are more than sports facilities, Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas feels.

“It is a verdant barrier between the outside world and our campus,” he said. “It sets our campus back from the hubbub of Los Angeles.”

Each Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoon, middle school physical education teacher Adia Armstrong and her husband coach the club track team VAST at the upper school. Club members between ages 5 and 18 train on the track, field and bleachers. VAST stands for velocity, agility, speed and technique. The club is open to students from any school and has been using the Harvard-Westlake track for three years.

Weekends and weekdays, Coach Bible instructs her club swimmers as the Los Angeles Swim Club utilizes Harvard-Westlake facilities for practice space.

These regular commitments, as well as the more spontaneous sharing of the field – with the Beamon Park flag football team, for instance, who used the field “in a pinch one time,” Barzdukas said – are coordinated by Athletic Director Terrence Barnum. For any organized groups, there are legal procedures and extensive scheduling responsibilities to oversee.

However, the school consistently opens its track to neighborhood joggers who need no permission to come on campus.

“We look at the track as a community resource,” Barzdukas said. “We feel fortunate to be members of this community and try to be good neighbors.”

But the field also has somewhat of a glamorous past: for one thing, rapper and music producer Dr. Dre used the school’s facilities for football training for a few days a couple of years ago, Barzdukas said.

Famous athletes have also graced Ted Slavin Field and made use of the track. NFL quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, Former NFL Wide Receiver and All-American at USC Curtis Conway and Super Bowl-winning linebacker Willie McGinest of the New England Patriots have raced up and down the Harvard-Westlake field.

Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Ian Thorpe and former USC Quarterback Mark Sanchez have also used the track, field or pool to train in the last two years.

Thorpe actually used the facilities on the middle school as well, Coach Darlene Bible said, and trained with world-famous coach Milt Nelms.

“Both were open to sharing their talents and allowing their workouts to be seen,” Bible said.

On top of those athletes, Michael Phelps used the Zanuck Swim Stadium to work on an Adidas Commercial.

“All of this goes on a case by case basis,” Barzdukas said. “The number one priority is always our kids.”

Each year ceremonies such as Commencement and Ring Ceremony are held on the field, and it is also the central location where the community gathers in the event of an emergency.

The field is also used for community service events. The organization ARC, which helps mentally disabled adults, has been a part of this campus for years.

The ARC guests play on the field, exercise on the track and generally enjoy the space and facilities on campus each year on several weekends.

They are welcome to the campus any Saturday during the year, but Executive Assistant to the President Ann-Marie Whitman lets the organization know when there are major campus events precluding ARC from playing catch on the field, swimming laps in the pool or having picnics on campus.

Typically, the guests play basketball, volleyball, tag, catch or just generally enjoy the facilities.

“They are so grateful that they don’t care what else is going on on campus,” Whitman said.

Whitman agrees that the benefits to the ARC and to the Harvard-Westlake community are reciprocal.

“We get as much out of it as they do,” she said. “They feel at home here.”