Bethel Completes First Outdoor Track as Royal Stadium Upgrades Near the Finish Line

Bethel University reached a historic milestone recently, completing the first outdoor track at Royal Stadium. And it’s getting rave reviews from coaches and runners! Though work remains for the athletics portion of the Called to More campaign, more than $5 million in donations have already helped add turf to the football field; jump, vault, and throws areas for track and field; and improvements for fans

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

August 12, 2022 | 2 p.m.

Bethel track and field athletes raced to campus in early August. They were ecstatic to see the newly completed track at Royal Stadium—Bethel’s first outdoor track. “I immediately ran a lap,” says runner and javelin-thrower Kelsie Sealock ’24, a nursing major. “I was smiling the entire lap because it was finally here and got me excited for the new season. I was so grateful for Bethel, donors, and the facility workers that helped to make it possible as they did an outstanding job.”

The track’s completion marks a historic milestone for Bethel athletics and the Called to More campaign—an ambitious vision for Bethel’s future that exceeded its $150 million goal with $163 million in giving. For athletics, more than $5 million in donations are fueling key facilities upgrades at Royal Stadium. With the nine-lane track and new jump, vault, and throws areas for track and field, Bethel will be able to host home track meets with the first scheduled for April 15, 2023. The project also includes turf for the football field—which was completed last year—and improvements for fans, though that work is ongoing.

Here's everything you need to know about Royal Stadium’s transformation:
Royal Stadium

Along with historic work to build the first outdoor track at Royal Stadium, athletics leaders also focused on functionality. The new visitors’ bleachers will include space beneath to store all the equipment that comes with a track. Director of Athletics Greg Peterson ’92 anticipates it will take time to make the most of the improved facility, but he notes they went through a similar experience after adding turf to the football field last year. “It will be kind of a year of learning,” he says.

The track is getting rave reviews.

Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Andrew Rock has run on tracks all over the world, including a race at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. But his first lap on Bethel’s track is among the most memorable. “I think running on this track for the first time myself is one of the more fulfilling moments for me because of the work and planning that went into this,” he says. And he offered a rave review. “The track surface is phenomenal, very responsive, and will be an incredible surface for training and competing!” he says. Runner Mikayla Turek ’23 agrees the track looks and feels wonderful. “I felt like I was running on air,” says Turek, a biokinetics major. “I am so thankful for everyone who put in the time, effort, and means to make it happen.”

Rock describes the track’s unique navy color as “absolutely beautiful,” and runners like Josh Sampson ’24 agree. “I’m so glad that it’s a blue track that almost perfectly matches that of the Bethel Royals school color,” says Sampson, a psychology major. “It makes Royal Stadium look so much more professional and complete.”

The facilities enable Bethel to host events and tournaments.

Along with home track and field meets, Bethel is now primed to bring more competitions and events to campus. Bethel will host the MIAC Track and Field Championships in May, and discussions are ongoing for other tournaments. “That’s a huge deal,” Director of Athletics Greg Peterson ’92 says. “Without this facility, we would never have that opportunity.”

Similarly, Bethel already hosted the 2021 MIAC Championship football game thanks to the new turf field. In the past, Peterson says it wasn’t realistic host playoff games on natural grass in early December in Minnesota.

The opportunities extend beyond games and meets. Summer youth sports camps already bring more than a thousand kids to campus, and new possibilities are coming. Next summer, Bethel will host the 2023 Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp with more than 400 athletes and 150 counselors and coaches. Between tournaments, playoff games, and camps, Peterson estimates an additional 2,000 to 3,0000 people will visit Bethel each year. “It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase who we are,” Peterson says.

Along with competitions, the space boosts practice and preparation.

Rock calls it an important step for the track and field program to have first-class facilities where athletes can train on campus. For years, the team has practiced at high schools in the area. “I am mostly excited for the athletes as they get to experience what it's like to have this space that truly meets the demands of training and competing,” he says.

Along with their excitement to compete before their fellow students and fans at home meets, Rock’s team sees much potential. Sampson hopes the new facilities will help Bethel recruit future student-athletes, and Turek envisions the track helping the program gain greater exposure within the Bethel community. Sealock expects the facilities to foster team growth and bonding, as they’ll enjoy more opportunities to cheer each other on in training and competition. “I believe that this new track and field is a great asset for Bethel,” she says.

The turf field also provides consistency for the football team. Peterson, a former assistant football coach, says coaches previously had to discuss the field conditions when they had natural grass, debating how—and where—to practice to help preserve the field conditions. “I think that is, in my opinion, just a huge thing in that it allows our team to practice consistently,” he says.

Royal Stadium

In the athletics department, the area around Royal Stadium is known as “The Hill.” During the Called to More campaign, the athletics rally cry has been to #transformthehill. That call extends far beyond competition spaces. It includes improvements for fans watching a game or meet at Bethel. Director of Athletics Greg Peterson ’92 also notes that families often stop by to get a feel for campus and see facilities. “Aesthetically, how it looked compared to how it looks now, it's just a huge improvement,” he says, adding that he hopes people leave campus thinking, “This place is doing things right.”

This project improves the fan experience.

Nick Cocalis, assistant athletic director for engagement, is pleased for fans to see a beautiful and practical space as they walk up to Royal Stadium. “I think that the game day experience is going to be a pretty special atmosphere, second to none in the conference and hopefully in the country,” he says.

Much of the work aims to improve the fan experience. That includes:

  • A new visitors' bleacher. Work is nearing completion to add permanent seating on the visitors’ sideline. These bleachers will span from 20-yard line to 20-yard line, which Cocalis says will help give the stadium an enclosed or “bowled-in” feel. The new bleachers will also improve crowd flow and provide space to store equipment. Last year, rental seating was used on the visitors’ sidelines, but it proved difficult to host well-attended events like rivalry games or the MIAC Championship.
  • An expanded and improved concession area. Along with a new fan pavilion, work greatly expanded the concession area, making it more conducive to large crowds. And it beautifies a space that wasn’t visually appealing, while also providing a central location for Homecoming and other festivities. “I think it’s just made the fan experience a lot more professional, but also there’s more space, which has been needed,” Peterson says.
  • A new video scoreboard. The video scoreboard was completed just before the first 2021 home football game. “We’ve only just scratched the surface,” Peterson says. Along with many opportunities for use within games, Peterson notes the potential for other athletic events, concerts, Bethel Chapel, and summer sports camps.
Royal Stadium

A video scoreboard was added to Royal Stadium last year, bringing new possibilities for in-game experiences for fans.

It wouldn’t have been possible without supporters and donors.

The upgrades reflect Bethel’s mission to help student-athletes have a life-changing experience. All so they leave equipped to use the life lessons they learned in sports to be leaders who serve with commitment, dedication, and determination. “The generosity from our donors stemmed from their hearts to see Kingdom impact continue through athletics at Bethel,” Cocalis said. “It had very little to do with a new stadium and everything to do with the way that the sports teams here at Bethel are changing lives for the sake of the gospel. It is so encouraging and inspiring to work with a group of donors and alumni that empower this kind of ministry.”

The finish line is in sight, but work is left to be done.

Work at Royal Stadium isn’t yet across the finish line. The visitors' bleachers are expected to be completed in mid- to late August before the first home football game on September 3. Additional plans include landscaping and branding updates, stadium lights, and press box renovations.

To Cocalis, the improvements to date reflect the athletic department’s drive to be excellent and express their goal to show “excellence is worship” in everything they do. “I think we’re really proud of how the stadium turned out,” he says. “We’re of course proud of our athletic achievements on the field and on the track, but even more so, we’re excited to display just the overall Bethel experience up there.”

Royal Club

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Want to support Bethel athletics? Join the Royal Club, formerly the Royal Athletics Association. Recently rebranded and relaunched, the official giving club of Bethel athletics brings together thousands of donors and fans with the same goal: to promote the transformative experience of student-athletes at Bethel.

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