MOSCOW, Idaho – Matt and Jill McCluskey walked onto the University of Idaho Kibbie Dome’s new floor and stood next to the logo dominating the surface.
Later Thursday morning, they made their way to the press box and took in the panorama of the charcoal-colored track and four tennis courts, the silver infield, and how the logo stood out against this background.
Next to Idaho’s gold block logo it read: “Lauren McCluskey” in gold block letters above “Track” in flowing white script.
“Oh, my goodness. It’s better than I could have hoped,” Matt said.
The new surface serves as a dramatic enhancement to the nearly 50-year-old dome, honoring Lauren McCluskey – a talented Pullman High School high jumper, hurdler and heptathlete, who was murdered in 2018 in Salt Lake City.
“It’s beautiful,” Jill said. “It feels great. It’s a cutting-edge world class facility, and some really fast times are going to come out of it.”
Lauren frequently trained with the Vandals and became good friends with many of the athletes.
She might well have been a Vandal if not for a desire to explore the world of college athletics beyond the rolling hills of the Palouse.
She chose to go to school and compete at the University of Utah and at age 21, was shot and killed by a man with whom she had a brief relationship – a registered sex offender who lied about his background and age and who stalked her and tried to extort money from her.
McCluskey reached out to campus police, but no one took her fears for her safety seriously.
Following her death, her parents, Matt and Jill, sued the state of Utah.
They were awarded $13.5 million. Of that, $10.5 million went to them directly, and $3 million helped establish the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which is focused on campus safety.
In memory of their daughter, the McCluskey family donated $1 million to UI for the new Kibbie Dome floor.
The renovation was completed this summer but will soon be covered by football turf and will not reemerge and be formally dedicated until late this year. The McCluskeys, Idaho athletics officials and Adam Bohrer, the contractor from Wall2Wall Flooring of Pocatello and Boise who installed the surface, were at the dome Thursday to get a first look at it before the turf goes down.
The Mondotrack vulcanized rubber that makes up the new 290-meter track with five lanes and eight sprint lane straightaways is manufactured in Italy and is state-of-the-art in fast running surfaces.
It has been used at the Olympics in Beijing, London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, according to Bohrer. Surrounded by the dome’s 16,000 seats, the Lauren McCluskey track may well be the biggest indoor track facility in the country, Bohrer said.
With about half of that spectator capacity also available for tennis, the dome becomes one of the largest college tennis indoor stadiums in the U.S., Vandals men’s tennis coach Daniel Hangstefer said.
The hard-court surface on the four courts is the surface used in the U.S. Open. It’s a surface the Vandals see regularly throughout the season, Hangstefer said. It is also a Mondo product, according to Bohrer.
As plans for the Lauren McCluskey track developed following her parents’ donation, they were closely consulted, according to UI deputy athletic director/internal operations Tim Mooney.
“We did everything we could to represent Lauren and her family well,” Mooney said.
The broad strokes of the project were sketched four years ago when Hangstefer and Vandals track coach Tim Cawley brainstormed a facilities upgrade, considering the university was going to build the ICCU Arena and stop playing basketball in the dome.
Paying for dome improvements might have been beyond their imagination at the time.
“We wanted to come up with something that would benefit both of us,” Hangstefer said. “This is the design we came up with.”
Cawley remembered that he met Lauren McCluskey his first day on the job at Idaho. He saw her hurdling on the outdoor Dan O’Brien track. He later developed a relationship with her family when he sought to recruit her to Idaho, and he said he was at track practice when he learned of McCluskey’s death.
It was recent enough that current Idaho athletes understand who the logo on their new indoor track represents.
“The majority of our kids know that story. They know who she is. They understand what that name means,” he said.
The venue will be featured at the Lauren McCluskey Invitational in January. It’s a meet Idaho has put on since McCluskey’s death. With a new, lightning-fast track, though, Cawley hopes to attract top-flight national competitors.
“I’ve never been able to highlight and showcase that meet the way it should be,” Cawley said.
The Vandals will have that chance when they host the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships early next year.
The track is expected to last 15 years or more, according to Bohrer.
“People will see her name,” Jill said. “They will remember she was a track athlete. They will remember her story.”
While the McCluskey family and not the foundation donated the UI’s new track, there is likely to be a synergy between it and the university’s efforts to promote campus safety, in line with the goals of Lauren’s Promise and the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, Jill said.
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