by Gene Marrano
The 47th Annual Cosmopolitan Invitational Track and Field Meet (May 3-5) makes a return to its roots this year: the multi high school and middle school event is back at William Fleming High School, where it all began in 1966. Fleming is a lot different, of course, now – there’s a new school and a new rubberized track that was specifically designed so that it could attract regional events like the Cosmopolitan, which is organized by the club of the same name in Roanoke.
“We’ve got it all here,” said Cosmopolitan Club member Michael Russell, noting how in past years the meet was often spread between 2-3 venues, with the pole vault held at Staunton River High School for example. Every event will take place on the Fleming campus this year, where 34 schools are slated to participate at last count.
Cosmopolitan International claims about 2000 members in 70 clubs nationwide and in Canada. Chapters support worthy causes. In 1959 the Roanoke Cosmopolitan Club chapter helped found the Roanoke Valley Speech & Hearing Center, the only facility in the valley where no one is denied treatment because of an inability to pay. The club continues to support the center today, along with Apple Ridge Farm, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and other worthy causes.
Fleming Athletic Director John Otey said the school was “very excited,” about welcoming the Cosmo back to the school. “We hope to greet you here every May,” said Otey, also a Fleming graduate.
Ticket sale proceeds from this year’s Cosmo Invitational will go toward supporting the Speech & Hearing Center. At a kickoff breakfast recently, members of the Cosmopolitan Club listened as keynote speaker and Fleming graduate K.C. Bratton talked about his own experiences as a track standout at the Cosmo meet, which ends a 20-year plus run in Salem in its return to the Fleming campus.
Bratton, now an appraiser for Roanoke City, won the 300-meter hurdles event in 1985 in the junior high school division, and the high school 200-meter event in 1987 as a William Fleming Colonel. He was also first in the 100 and 200-meter events at the Cosmo in 1988. Bratton then went on to VMI after first considering James Madison for college; as a Keydet, Bratton was first team All Southern Conference, a VMI record holder and a NCAA qualifier in the 4 x 100 relay.
“I actually didn’t know they had it here [at Fleming],” admitted Bratton, a former sprinter who said the Cosmo was the big meet every year besides the state championships. “It really held the [same] esteem as the state meet. You knew you were going to compete in front of friends and family. Everybody would come out to watch.” The new facilities at Fleming “are absolutely perfect for a track meet,” said Bratton, the current chair for the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority, which oversees Explore Park. He said the Fleming track and field venue rivaled some he saw in college.
Roanoke City Council member Sherman Lea noted that funding for the Fleming athletic facilities was increased in order to accommodate regional events like the Cosmopolitan Invitational Track and Field Meet. “This is why we did it. We want to showcase this as a top notch facility for track [meets].” The fact that all of the events could be held at Fleming was a major selling point for Lea, who is up for reelection in May. “It’s a great day for the city of Roanoke and the school system,” he added. “We want [the Cosmo] to find a home here.”
Roanoke Mayor David Bowers was also on hand for the breakfast kickoff: “Forty seven years after it started here at William Fleming [its back],” said Bowers, who also praised the school board for developing an “excellent facility,” at Fleming. “Welcome home, Cosmopolitan track meet.”