Robert Peck, who had run track and cross country at Snider, made a sacrifice when he committed to run cross country at Purdue Fort Wayne. He knew he could only do the latter, but he wanted to be at PFW and a Division I athlete.
“It definitely was (a sacrifice) knowing that you had to give up essentially half of the year that you would normally be able to compete,” Peck said. “It's been difficult seeing all of the other programs be able to see their hard work pay off in the spring.”
Peck now has an opportunity he never imagined – to run track for the Mastodons.
On Oct. 25, 2018, the university announced men's track and field would be making a return to campus for the fall 2019 season.
“I am over the moon about this; I couldn't be more excited,” said Peck, a senior. “The fact that they were able to squeak it in my senior year before I left the program means a ton.”
Men's indoor and outdoor track and field was eliminated in 2003 as part of a realignment of the university's sports offerings.
Ashley Bastron, head coach of the women's cross country and track and field and men's cross country teams, will take over the men's track and field program as well.
Athletic director Kelly Hartley Hutton calls Bastron an “up and comer” in the coaching world.
“She's incredibly passionate about track and field, but I think she connects with people pretty easily,” Hartley Hutton aid. “She's outgoing and she's passionate about coaching.”
A former IUPUI assistant coach, PFW is Bastron's first head-coaching job. She was hired in December 2017.
It's no easy task, maintaining one program while simultaneously creating another, but that's what's attractive about the role for Bastron.
“When (PFW) talked about would I want to add men's track? 'Yes, I'm all in. What do I need to do?' They asked if I would continue to be the head coach of that as well and I was honored to do it,” Bastron said.
Bastron said during the IPFW split, a big initiative for the university was to increase enrollment. One of the ways was the addition of a sport.
“Fort Wayne is a hotbed for track and field talent,” Bastron said. “It's one of the best areas in the state of Indiana as far as local talent goes, so having a women's team and not having a men's team really kind of hampered recruiting on the women's side. There's definitely a kind of catalyst to have both genders and to be able to grow both genders.”
The addition of men's track and field will bring the number of NCAA Division I sports at PFW from 14 to 16. The NCAA counts indoor and outdoor track count as two different sports.
The move is expected to bring approximately 70 new student-athletes to campus by 2020–21.
A key part of building a program from scratch is the first recruiting class. While the men's cross country runners will compete this season, Bastron spent the summer recruiting her first class. And Fort Wayne has been the focus.
“I really want people in the community of Fort Wayne to see Purdue Fort Wayne as a viable option and, a great option for them to go to school,” she said.
Of the 47 incoming men's and women's runners, 14 are from Fort Wayne.
With the university playing host to two community indoor meets and New Haven playing host to two indoor meets on campus, Bastron wants to build that Mastodon-Fort Wayne pipeline.
“That hopefully then kind of creates a feeder system, too,” she said. “They come, have a good experience, go back to their teammates and say, 'oh I love where I go to school.'
“Then they want to come and check things out.”