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Looking Back at the OHSAA’s Boys Track & Field Championships

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Looking Back at the OHSAA's Track & Field Championships- Boys
A centennial moment

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

This year represents a milestone in Ohio high school athletics, marking as it does the 100th Ohio Boys Track and Field Meet, making this the oldest of the Ohio high school state tournaments.  The state track meet was first run at Denison University in 1908 with just 12 schools participating, moving to Ohio Wesleyan University the next year.   The meet then relocated to the campus of Ohio State University in 1910.  Except for the years 1999-2003, when the meet was held at Dayton Welcome Stadium, the state boys track meet has taken place on the OSU campus ever since. 

All schools competed in the state track meet as one class until 1921, when they were divided into Class A and Class B.  The schools remained divided into two classifications until 1970, but the classifications were renamed AA and A in 1957.  In 1971 Class AAA was added, and in 1990 the three classifications were renamed Division I-II-III, which is how they are divided today.

The first state championship in 1908 was won by Columbus North High School, which repeated as state title holder in 1911, for the school’s only two track championships.  Toledo Central High School won the other four championships during the state meet’s first six years.  Beginning in 1915, when East Cleveland Shaw won the first of two consecutive Ohio track championships, the boys state meet would see the emergence and domination of the schools from the Greater Cleveland area, a phenomenon that continues to this very day.  These schools have combined to win a total of 62 boys state track championships, far and away more than any other metropolitan area in the state.

Leading the way for the Cleveland area have been two high schools whose names have become synonymous with track and field excellence.  The first of these is East Technical High School, more commonly referred to as simply East Tech.  From 1920 to 1955, the Scarabs won 13 boys track championships, including a record six in a row from 1939-1944.  (Tech shared the state title in 1941 with Cleveland Heights High.) The Scarabs have also finished as the runner-up on seven other occasions.  Tech’s success in track helped the school earn the unofficial title of “Champion of Champions” during the OHSAA’s first 50 years, the school having won a combined total of 19 state titles in all sports, one more than runner-up Lakewood High School.

When one talks about East Tech track, two names invariably come up:  Jesse Owens and Harrison Dillard. 

Just about everyone knows the story of Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics, where Owens won four gold medals (100m., 200m., 4x100 relay, long jump) to put a huge crimp in Adolph Hitler’s plans to showcase his supposedly racially superior athletes.  (Dave Albritton, another East Tech and OSU product, also competed at the ’36 Olympics, winning a silver medal in the high jump after setting the world record at 2.08m in July, 1936.  Albritton would win the NCAA title in this event in 1935-36-37, and the AAU championship eight times between 1936 and 1950.)  Much less is usually known about Owens’ high school and college track career.

Jesse Owens, who was born in Oakville, Alabama, came to Cleveland when his family moved there when he was nine years old.  His name is actually James Cleveland Owens.  When he was in grade school in Cleveland, his teacher could not understand his southern accent when Owens tried to tell her that his name was “J.C.”.  She thought that he was saying “Jesse,” and it stuck.

Owens got his start in track in junior high, but he really started to make his mark in the sport at East Tech.  As a sophomore at the state championships in 1931, he won the broad jump, finished second in the 200-yard dash and fourth in the 100 as East Tech finished eighth.

The next year Jesse Owens led East Tech to the state championship when he won four events at the state meet.  He won the 100-yard (91m) dash in 9.9 seconds, tying the meet record; won the 200-yard dash; won the broad jump with a leap of 22’11 ¾”, setting a new state record; and helped to set another new state record of 1:30.8 as a member of the winning 880-yard (4x220) relay team.

In 1933, Owens led the Scarabs to a second consecutive state championship by again winning four events, the only boy to ever win four events at the state meet two times.  In the 100-yard dash he set a new state record of 9.6 seconds.  In the 200-yard dash he also set a state record, winning with a time of 20.8 seconds.  He set a third state record in the broad jump with a leap of 24’3¾”.  As a member of the 880-yard relay team, Owens helped to set yet another state record with a time of 1:30.3.  Four state records in four events.  While his state records have all since been broken, no one else has ever set four state records in a single state track meet.   

With his reputation already well established around Ohio, Jesse Owens burst onto the national and world stage at the National High School Championships later that year when he tied the world record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.4 seconds – the second time that year that he had done so.  That same year, 1933, he set the national high school record in the broad jump with a leap of 24’11¾”, a record that stood for 22 years. 

Following his graduation from East Tech, Jesse Owens attended Ohio State University.  In 1935 and 1936, at the NCAA championships, the “Buckeye Bullet” won eight individual gold medals, four each year, the only person to ever accomplish this feat. 

However, the greatest accomplishment of his entire track career – some would say in the history of sports - came in the spring of 1935.  On May 25, 1935, at a Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Owens tied one world record and set three more - in a span of just 45 minutes.  He tied the world record in the 100-yard (91m) dash with a time of 9.4 seconds.  He then set world records in the long jump, 26’8 ¼” (8.13m), the 220-yard (201m) low hurdles, 22.6 seconds (becoming the first person to crack the 23 second barrier), and the 220-yard (201m) dash, 20.3 seconds.  And Jesse Owens did all of this while recovering from a fall down a flight of stairs suffered earlier in the week.

 In 2005, this incredible accomplishment was hailed as the greatest athletic achievement since 1850.

Then came Jesse Owens’ great victories in the 1936 Olympics, making him the first American to ever win four gold medals in a single Olympics.  Two months before his great accomplishments at the Olympics, Owens set a world record in the 100m dash with a time of 10.20 seconds.

There have been many great track athletes since the days when Jesse Owens was racing down the cinder paths, but none has yet reached the heights that his former Ohio high schooler did.

            Unlike Jesse Owens, Harrison Dillard is a native Clevelander.  “Bones” as he was nicknamed because of his thin build, got inspired to run track when, at the age of 13, he watched a parade in Cleveland honoring Jesse Owens upon his return from the 1936 Olympics.  Dillard participated in the 1940 state track meet, helping East Tech to another state championship by finishing second in the 120-yard high hurdles, and third in the 220-yard low hurdles.  In 1941, Dillard returned to the state meet and won both events, leading the Scarabs to a share of the state title. 

Dillard’s senior year in high school was just the beginning of a great track career in his specialty, the hurdles.  Attending Baldwin-Wallace College in nearby Berea, Ohio (instead of following his idol Owens to OSU), Dillard won four national collegiate titles in the low and high hurdles, as well as 14 AAU outdoor hurdling titles before a stint in the U.S Army, brought about by the outbreak of World War II, put his track career on hold.

Following the war, Dillard went back to Baldwin-Wallace and track.  In 1946 and 1947 he won the NCAA title in both the 120 and 220-yard hurdles, tying the world record in both events in 1946.  Undoubtedly the best hurdler of his time, and one of the best ever, Dillard won 82 consecutive races from May 31, 1947 to June 26, 1948, setting a world record in the 120-yard hurdles in April of 1948. 

Surprisingly, he failed to qualify for that event at the 1948 Olympic trials when he was slowed by knocking down some of the hurdles, but he did secure the third and final spot for the 100-meter dash.  Lucky for the USA that he did, as Dillard won the gold in the 100m (with an Olympic record time of 10.30 seconds) and was a member of the USA’s gold medal 4x100m relay team.  Dillard returned to the Olympics in 1952 and won two more golds, one in his specialty, the 110m hurdles, and the other as a member of the 4x100m relay team.  Harrison Dillard is still the only male Olympian to win gold in both sprinting and hurdling events.

In part because of his outstanding starting technique, Harrison Dillard was virtually unbeatable indoors in the 60-yard hurdles.  He won that event at the AAU indoor championships seven consecutive years, 1947-1953, and again in 1955.

East Tech won its last state championship in 1955, but almost immediately Glenville began its run of success that continues to today.  The Tarblooders won their first state championship in 1959, and would win a total of 10 state titles over the next 17 years.  They also finished as runners-up in both 1963 and 1943, missing out on two more state titles by a combined total of just 2½ points.  Glenville then went 27 years without a state championship, but since 2003 they have regained the form of old and have been unbeatable, winning the last four Division I boys Ohio track championships to eclipse East Tech’s total of 13 titles with 14 of their own. 

Glenville’s specialty over those last four years has been the speed events, both individual and relay.  Their success has earned for the Tarblooders a total of 15 spots on the state’s all-time Top 10 listings in seven different events.  Leading the way for Glenville has been speedster Ted Ginn Jr., who occupies six of these spots, including the state meet record in the 110m hurdles at 13.40 seconds, a time that is currently tied for fifth best in the country.  The Tarblooders also hold the four fastest times in the 4x200m relay, including the state record at 1:25.09. 

100 years of championship history cannot be adequately covered in just the few pages allowed us here, but a few high lights deserve be mentioned. 

Chris Nelloms led Dayton Dunbar to three consecutive Division I championships in 1988-89-90.  During his high school career Nelloms won 11 championships in a total of five different events.  He holds the state record in three events (200m, 400m, 110m hurdles), and his time of 13.30 sec. in the 110m hurdles is also a national high school record.

John Saunders led Glendale High School to its only state championship in 1935, but as a freshman that year Saunders was just getting started.  Like Harrison Dillard, Saunders specialty was the hurdles.  From 1935 to 1938 he won 10 individual state championships, six of which came in either the high or low hurdles.  He also won the 100-yard dash championship three times and the broad jump title once.

Scott Fry of Perkins High School in Sandusky won both the 1600m and 3200m races in Division II in 1985.  His time of 8:49.40 in the 3200m is the all-time best in the Ohio boys tournament, while his time of 8:46.70, also run in 1985, is the all-time best in Ohio and fifth best in the nation. 

3200 must be a pretty lucky number for Ohioans.  In the 3200m relay (4x800), Ohio schools have run four of the 10 best times in the nation.  North Canton Hoover is #5, 7:41.74 (2003), St. Ignatius #6, 7:41.99 (2001), Wadsworth #7, 7:42.21 (2003), and Elyria High School is #9, 7:42.71 (1997).

While it seems that some schools tend to specialize in an event or two, it would be hard to top little Jefferson Township High School from down Dayton way.  This school, which boasts a total student population of under 250, specializes in relays, almost all of them, so much so that the Broncos hold four state tournament relay records.  In 1981, while competing as a Division II school, they set the divisional tournament record in the 4x100 at 41.79 seconds.  Dropping down to Division III a few years later, the Broncos have since set three more tournament relay records in the 4x100 (42.31 sec. in 1986), 4x200 (1:30.37 in 2005), and 4x400 (3:21.08 in 1994).

However, Jefferson Township High has also produced one of the state’s all-time best sprinters in Tony Lee.  From 1985 to 1988, Lee won nine gold medals at the state tournament.  He won four as a member of the 4x100 relay team, three in the 100m dash and two in the 200m. 

Finally, there is one Ohio high school alum who must be mentioned in any article dealing with Ohio high school track.  Edwin Moses is not so famous for what he accomplished on the track at Dayton’s Fairview High School in the early 1970s, as for what he did after graduating.  Moses was the dominant intermediate hurdler in the world for more than a decade, and is perhaps the best the world has ever seen.  In 1976, Moses literally burst onto the world track scene at the Montreal Olympics.  Competing in this, his very first international event, Moses not only took home the gold medal in the 400m hurdles, but set a world record of 47.64 seconds in the process. 

After losing a race in August of 1977, Moses won his next race in September 2, 1977.  He would not lose again, almost.  Moses’ win streak would cover 122 consecutive races, over a span of nine years and nine months, his next defeat not coming until June 4, 1987.  During that period he would set another world record for the 400m hurdles, 47.02 seconds, on his birthday in 1983.  In the final race of his career at the 1992 Olympics, Moses finished third to bring home the bronze medal, adding this to the gold medals he had won in 1976 and 1984.

Looking Back at the OHSAA's Track & Field Championships- Girls
A centennial moment

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

While the boys state track meet is the oldest of Ohio’s high school championships, the girls’ meet is one of the youngest, being one of the nine girls sports to be given a state tournament in the years 1975-1978.  The girls state track meet was first held in 1975, and for its first three years this championship was held separate from the boys, but ever since 1978 the two meets have been held simultaneously.  There have always been three categories for the girls, named Class AAA-AA-A from 1975-1989, changing to Division I-II-III starting in 1990.

Although the girls did not get their due recognition in the form of a state track meet until 1975, this by no means meant that there was no track competition for the ladies until then.  As early as the dawn of the last century, girls have been participating in some kind of athletics in Ohio’s high schools.  Usually this was of the intramural variety, but around the 1920s the young ladies of one school started to compete against those of other high schools in a few sports. These included basketball, field hockey and a limited number of track and field events, mainly those involving running and jumping. 

Often the track meets for the girls took the form of a single annual meet.  The girls from several schools would gather at one location in late May or early June for the big event.  Typically, there would be foot races during the morning session, with jumping events added after lunch.  Needless to say, coaching, such as it was, was quite amateurish at this time, and coverage by the local media was non-existent, but trophies, ribbons and banners were given to the winners, and for its day this was a truly big event.

While it was felt that all students in our high schools needed to have exercise as part of their overall development, it was also a strongly held belief in those earlier days that interscholastic sports for girls was not the way to go.  When interscholastic basketball, the premier sport for girls back then, was discontinued in all OHSAA schools in 1940, it sounded the death knell for all other interscholastic athletic activity for young ladies in the state. 

Ohio’s high school girls would have to wait almost 20 years before organized interscholastic athletics started to creep back into their curriculum.  The attitude towards interscholastic athletics for girls gradually changed, and by the late ‘60s and early 70’s sports for girls, including track and field, slowly became better organized and higher quality coaching became available for the high school girls around the state.

In spite of the fact that the high school girls of Ohio did not have the overall training and coaching advantages in track and field until relatively recently that the boys have always enjoyed, this did not prevent many of the state’s young ladies from seriously pursuing this activity.  The most successful of these young ladies was Madeline Manning, one of this country’s first female middle distance runners of world class caliber. 

Madeline was born in Cleveland in 1948 and attended that city’s John Hay High School.  In 1965, Ms. Manning won her first national title in the 440-yard run at the girls AAU championships.  In 1966, while still attending John Hay, she set the world indoor record in the 800-meter run in her very first international meet.  She would go on to set three more world indoor records for the 800m, her best time of 2:02.0 coming in 1969.

In 1968, Madeline won the 800m race at the Olympics held in Mexico City, in an Olympic record time of 2:00.9.  Her win was so decisive that the second place runner was a full 10 meters behind her at the finish.  Madeline Manning is still the only American woman to ever win the 800-meter race in the Olympics. 

Ms. Manning returned to the Olympics in 1972 and 1976.  She earned a silver medal as a member of the USA’s 1600m (4x400m) relay team in 1972.  In 1976, she became the first American woman to break the two minute barrier in the 800-meters with a time of 1:59.8 at the U.S. Olympic trials, but she failed to make the finals at the Olympics.  Later that same year Ms. Manning would lower the U. S. record in the 800m to 1:57.9.  Although she qualified for the Olympic team again in 1980, Madeline was denied the opportunity to try for a medal when the United States boycotted the Olympics being held in Moscow.

Among the many accomplishments achieved throughout her stellar track career, Madeline Manning won the 400-meter race at the World University Games in 1966, and won the same event at the Pan-Am games in 1975.  Eleven times she has been the national champion in the 800-meter race, six times outdoors and five times indoors. 

While Madeline Manning’s achievements are remarkable, especially in light of the era in which she participated, there is another young lady who may be the prime example of what modern training, modern coaching and sheer determination can achieve today. 

Bridget Franek of Crestwood High School in Mantua first qualified for the state track meet in 2003 as a freshman. Running in the 1600-meters, she did not win, but placed a very respectable second.  It was more of the same the next season, as Bridget again finished second in the 1600m. 

Finally, in 2005 as a junior, success finally came Bridget’s way.  She did not just win the Division I 1600-meter race, she blew away the opposition.  Her time was 4:45.68, the all-time all-division record for Ohio girl’s track.  The second place finisher was almost 13 seconds behind her.  Bridget also ran the grueling 800-meter race that year, missing a second state title by just four-tenths of a second.

By the time last year’s girls state track meet rolled around, people were looking for big things from Bridget Franek in the distance events.  If only they knew how big this meet would be for Bridget Franek, Crestwood High School and the state of Ohio.

In 2006, Crestwood High School had dropped a notch and was now competing in Division II.  On Friday, June 2, the Crestwood 4x800m relay team came home in first place.  On that team were Bridget Franek and her teammate, junior Cassie Schenck. The Red Devils were off and running.

Saturday morning, June 3rd, dawned pleasantly at the state girls track meet.  However, this would hardly be an ordinary day at the track.  At 1:35 P.M. the 1600-meter race was held.  Bridget Franek won in a time of 4 minutes, 56.17 seconds.  Teammate Cassie Schenck finished second, barely a second and a half in arrears.

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Bob Migra later wrote about Ms. Franek, “She was just warming up.”

Barely forty minutes after the conclusion of the 1600m race, Bridget Franek was back on the track for the start of 800-meter race.  This event is considered by many to be the most grueling event in track, combining as it does the dual need for flat out speed and endurance.  No luxury of pacing yourself in this race like you can in the longer events.  Bridget proved to be more than equal to the task, finishing in a Division II record time of 2:11.22 – and adding valuable points to her team’s quest for a state championship.

Most people would have been willing to call it a day by now, but Bridget Franek still had one more race to run.  Barely 15 minutes after the start of the 800m, perhaps 12 minutes after the conclusion of that grueling race, Bridget Franek was back on the starting line for the 3200-meter event - a race of nearly two miles!  Even Bridget later admitted to having some concerns, worrying about getting dehydrated and perhaps literally falling off the track. 

To those watching the race, the thought of this happening probably never entered their minds as they watched Bridget cruise around the oval at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, with teammate Cassie Schenck following her by just a few seconds, and the rest of the racers way behind.  With more than 12,000 fans cheering her on as she came down the home stretch, Bridget Franek crossed the finish line in a time of 10:43.86 - another Division II state meet record.  (Earlier in the year Bridget had run this same event in an all-division girls record time of 10:16.5.)

It was a truly incredible achievement.  From 1:35 P.M., when the 1600m race started, until approx. 2:51 P.M., when she crossed the finish line in the 3200m race, Bridget Franek had won the three longest races in the state meet - in a span of just under an hour and 15 minutes, and two of them in record time.  Commenting on Franek’s remarkable day, University of Akron assistant track and cross-country coach Scott Jones put the accomplishment in “the realm of the unbelievable.” To the best of this writer’s knowledge, no high school athlete in the country, boy or girl, has ever won the 800m, 1600m and 3200m races in the same meet in the same day – except Bridget Franek of Crestwood High School.

It came almost as an after thought to many that Franek’s four victories, and Cassie Schenck’s two second place finishes, had carried the Red Devils to their first ever girls state track championship. 

As was mentioned in the previous article, the boys state track meet has been dominated by Cleveland area schools.  In the girls competition this was not the case at first, but since 1986 schools from the Grater Cleveland/Northeastern Ohio area have won more than their fair share of state titles, especially in Divisions I and II.

Leading the way in this regard has been Beaumont School of Cleveland Heights, led by their great coach Jim Emery, who has been coaching track and cross-country at the school since 1991. Variously competing in Class AAA/Division I and Class AA/Division II, the Blue Streaks have won 14 state track and field championships, including a state record, boys or girls, seven in a row from 1986-1992. 

Beaumont’s strength has been the long distance races, which comes as no real surprise since the Blue Streaks have also won more girls state cross country titles, 7, than any other school.  Girls from the school own a total of six state meet records, three each in Division I and Division II.  Most of these records have come in the middle to long distance individual and relay events, but they have also “branched out” to hold the Division II meet record in the 300-meter hurdles, set by Michelle Hite in 1992 with a time of 43.10 seconds.  Girls from Beaumont also hold two all-time all-division state records: 800-meters by Candace Nicholson, 2:08.72, 1996; and the 4x800m relay (Kristen Joyner, Aimee Dobrowski, Nora Sennett, Maggie Infield), 9:03.86, 2002.

While Cleveland’s Senate League has produced the state’s top two boys track teams in East Tech and Glenville, it may come as a surprise that the girls from both of these two schools have yet to win their first state title.   However, the girls from one Senate school have been coming on strong of late, and in the last 10 years have won or shared eight Division I girls state track championships.  That school is Collinwood High School, coached by their long time mentor, Lou Slapnik. 

The Railroaders tend to do better in the shorter distance races and relays up to 400m, as well as in some of the field events.  They are particularly good at the 4x200m relay, an event in which they own the all-division state meet and the all-time girls record of 1:38.34, set in 1997 by the team of Donita Scott, Rhondalynn Crawford, Rashida Cameron and Shonda Robinson.  The Railroaders can also claim five of the top six all-time state tournament times in this event.

The Railroaders have also had some notable success in the high jump, where Christina Estrict set the state meet record in 2000 with a jump of 6’ even, after setting the all-time girls mark of 6’1” earlier in the season. 

Another school that has piggy-backed its success in cross-country with track and field championships is Minster High School.  The Wildcats, currently coached by Larry Topp, are second only to Beaumont in girls state track titles with 12, to go along with 6 cross-country championships, also second to Beaumont.  The Wildcats, who compete in the small school category Class A/Division III, have spread their titles over the whole history of the girls state track meet.  They won five championships in a row from 1976-1980, and won three more during the ‘80s.  They were shut out of the title picture during the 1990’s, but won four more in 2001-2002-2003-2004. 

Spearheading the Wildcats’ last four state title drives was one of Ohio’s all-time best long distance runners, Sunni Olding.  A four-year runner at Minster, Ms. Olding won state individual cross-country honors three times, finishing the other race in second place by just a fraction of a second.  Sunni went from the fall cross-country season to the spring track season hardly seeming to miss a beat, and with even greater success.  In her four years at Minster, Ms. Olding won nine gold medals at the state track meet (1600m four times, 3200m twice, 4x800m relay three times), twice finished second in the 3200m and once on the 4x800m relay team, and chipped in with a fourth place finish in the 4x400m relay (2004).

 

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