The men's outdoor track and field team at St. Augustine's University won the NCAA Division II national championship for the fifth straight time last year. This time, though, it will be getting a little extra recognition in its hometown.
The state Board of Transportation approved the university's request to erect a highway sign under a new program that lets colleges and universities pay for roadside markers to recognize national championship teams.
St. Aug's has consistently fielded champion track teams under long-time coach George Williams, who has sent dozens of athletes to the Olympics and coached the U.S. men's track and field team at the Athens games in 2004.
Williams was on hand Thursday when the Board of Transportation approved the roadside sign celebrating the 2017 championship.
"It's an honor to know the people of North Carolina care about what we do for our young people," he told the board.
The St. Aug's sign is the second under the championship marker policy adopted by the Board of Transportation last fall. Schools pay for the signs, at $2,000 a piece, and they have to come down within two years.
The first set of signs to go up this winter commemorated the UNC-Chapel Hill men's basketball championship last year. UNC paid for eight signs along interstate highways — four on I-85 and I-95 at the Virginia and South Carolina state lines; one along I-40 at the Tennessee line; one on southbound I-85 near I-77 in Charlotte; and two along I-40 in Wake County.
One of the Wake signs, on westbound I-40 near the Durham County line, remains in place. But the other — erected along eastbound I-40 at the North Harrison Avenue interchange in Cary — disappeared about a week later, apparently at the hands of vandals who considered it too close to PNC Arena, the home of UNC rival N.C. State University Wolfpack.
The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to put that sign back up somewhere and is consulting both NCSU and UNC-Chapel to find a suitable location. As of Friday, no decision had been made.
The St. Augustine's sign will be put up somewhere near its campus east of downtown, but the location has not been chosen yet, said spokesman Eric Curry.