Ford unveils celebratory championship belts for 2023 track season

Kavia with Championship belt. Olivia Havre | Photographer

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

Since 2017, college sports teams across the country have found props to highlight positive plays or performances.

The University of Miami’s football team started it with the turnover chain. Oregon State University joined the party and brought out a chainsaw for
defensive turnovers. Just last season, the University of Texas’ baseball squad started slapping a football helmet on a player after he hit a home run.

College sports are no stranger to things like this, and a similar tradition found its home in Waco as the Baylor track and field program unveiled a celebratory championship belt for the 2023 season.

It resembles those waistbands that can be seen on World Wrestling Entertainment duelists. Picture John Cena raising a WWE championship belt in the air and celebrating — except rather than Cena, it’s one of head coach Michael Ford and assistant coach Jeff Chakouian’s athletes after an impressive track and field meet.

“It was just something to go out there and recognize our student-athletes at the meet,” Ford said. “Me and Coach Chak were talking about maybe getting a pin or something and I said, ‘What about getting a championship belt?’”

Ford, now in his second year, added that this idea had been swirling since last season. He said he didn’t want to try and implement something like that in his first year at the helm because he “was running around like I had a water hose in my face all day.”

When the media met with Ford and two members of the track and field team on Thursday, junior sprinter Kavia Francis showed up rocking a school-themed belt that displayed a bear logo on the center of it. Ford said at every meet, the coaching staff will get together and pick the most deserving male and female athlete to be given the separate belts.

Francis set a personal record in the 200-meter run (23.36 seconds) at the Corky Classic on Jan. 14, which Ford said was “one of the fastest times in the country so far.” He said she also ran a great leg on the 4×4 00-meter relay team, which helped her become the first female Bear to earn the belt.

“It was a great moment because this is a new tradition here,” Francis said. “I really didn’t expect to get it, but it was a great feeling.”

After receiving the honor from the coaches, Francis said she made sure to “flex” on her teammates and let them know who was the first to receive it.

On the men’s side, Ford issued a belt that sports a green and gold “BU” logo on it to freshman thrower Gary Moore Jr. after he broke a school record on his first throw. Moore didn’t show up to the media availability with the belt, but the newcomer sure did appreciate Ford giving it to him.

“I literally had no idea they even did that,” Moore said. “I was just sitting there. I thought [Coach Ford] was just going to keep on talking. He said they had something special. I was like, ‘Hold up, what do they have planned right now?’ First meet as a freshman, you’re really nervous. To get that, to show your teammates what you got, I was just excited and happy with how I performed.”

Just because an athlete wins the belt doesn’t mean it’s theirs for good. Ford said “it’s definitely possible” for Francis and Moore to defend their title by running faster or throwing farther, but it’s by no means a guarantee.

Ford just wanted something to light a fire under his team. He said he’ll keep tallies on who has the belt and how many times they’ve acquired it, but the important part is that it adds that healthy intrasquad competition.

“I thought it motivated the team, because they were like, ‘Oh man, Coach Ford actually got us something nice,’” Ford said.

Whether it’s that turnover chain, the football helmet or Baylor’s belt, the idea behind these gimmicks is pretty straightforward: further incentivize a group of athletes to reach greater heights.

When asked if she would set another personal record again and hold on to her belt for another week, Francis grinned and said, “Let’s see.”

“Maybe I’ll hand it off to one of my teammates who deserves it,” Francis said. “But if not, I’ll keep it.”