An old tradition revisited

Largely because my father was an outstanding track and field athlete in high school and college, the sport was an integral part of my life growing up. So it was with much anticipation that my dad and I made a return trip to the state meet in Columbus last Saturday for the first time in several years.

When I was a youngster and up through my high school years it was rare, if ever, that we missed a state track meet. Sometimes those trips included my mom and siblings, sometimes even cousins and aunts and uncles, or sometimes a group of my friends.

Once I entered college we missed a few years. But when I became a sports editor at this newspaper in 1983 we started going again. Sometimes we’d go to cover someone from Highland County who was competing, and sometimes we’d go just for the fun of it. Sometimes a sibling would come along or meet us, and a time or two my wife and sons joined us. But more often than not it was just dad and me.

We were there in 1998, the last year the meet was competed in Ohio Stadium, where my dad ran in the state meet in 1954 and 1956 (he was sick in his junior year in 1955 and did not get to run in the regional, and therefore did not qualify for the state meet).

We went to the state meet a couple times when it was held at Dayton’s Welcome Stadium, but we had not been back together since the meet moved to Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Stadium in 2004.

Saturday was special because Hillsboro had a kid by the name of Jarrod Hart running in the 800 meters, one of the same races that my father and I ran in high school. Hillsboro’s first South Central Ohio League Track and Field championship came in 1956 when my dad was senior and he won the 880-yard run. Hillsboro did not win another SCOL track title until I was a senior in 1979 and I won the 880. Hillsboro’s next SCOL title came last year, in 2012, and Jarrod Hart won what several years ago, changed to the 800 meters.

Jarrod was a basketball and football teammate of my youngest son, Chase, in high school and they were pretty good buddies, although Jarrod is a year younger. So you can see why we kind of felt like there was a connection.

But the connection goes even deeper than that. Dad and I were at the state track meet in 1972, 1973 and 1974 when Hillsboro’s Jim Buck ran the 880 there. If my memory serves me right, Jim finished 10th his sophomore year in 1972, broke the state record his junior year in 1973 but still finished third, then set his own state record in 1974 with a time of 1:54.1, which was almost identical to the time of 1:54.11 Jarrod ran last Saturday.

Today, Jim is married to my cousin, the former Janelle Jones, and it was Janelle’s younger brother, Jay, who shared my passion for track and field when we were growing up.

When we must have been around junior high age, Jay built a high jump pit behind his house. It was made of tires, with old bed springs, mattresses, foam and whatever we could find to cushion our landing.

Jay fashioned himself a really nice pair of standards – the things that hold the crossbar and measure the height – and a year or so later he moved them to our house when we obtained a real landing pit.

Sometime in the mid 1970s Hillsboro purchased its first set of what were called “port-a-pits.” Believe it or not, I’m old enough to remember when the landing pit, for both the high jump and pole vault, was nothing but sawdust, and it wasn’t pleasant to land in. After that, they had a a bunch of pieces of foam held together by what looked like a big fish net. The port-a-pits came next, and when they arrived, we asked what the school was going to do with the old foam ones. Evidently, they had no plans because they gave them to us, and that’s when we built a pole vault/high jump it in our backyard, with the foam placed atop old tires.

We found an old pole vault box – the thing you plant your pole vault pole in as you start to go up – buried in the ground at the school, and took it home. We also got permission to have some of the school’s broken pole vault poles and a long-used crossbar, and we were ready to go.

Sometimes, me, Jay and my brother Brent would have our own little track meets in our backyard, minus the running events. Our events consisted of the high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump and shot put. We’d turn over the tractor tire that served as the sandbox in our backyard and the sand became our landing pit for the long jump and triple jump. Any rock or other heavy object we could find would become our shot put.

From the time I was 9 years old through my senior year in high school, my dad also ran an annual track event called Jaycees Junior Champ. Each participant could pick out three events and points were tallied according to how you finished in them. Ribbons were awarded for the top placers in each event, and trophies to the overall winners in each age group. Somewhere in the attic overtop my garage I still have all my ribbons and trophies.

So when I say that track was an integral part of my life growing up, maybe you get the picture.

But it all started with my dad. When he was a 15-year-old sophomore in 1954, he qualified for the 880 at the state meet, and was one of the favorites. Back in those days there were only two classes – A and B – and Dad had to run against the big schools. He ran the first 440 of his 880 that year in 50 seconds flat, which would have won the state meet that year in the 440. He was still in first place with 200 yards to go, but then his legs started locking up and he finished dead last.

Two years later he qualified for the state meet in both the 100-yard dash and 880. He finished sixth in the 100 and fifth in the 880, with all five top placers finishing within a couple yards of each other. He says if he had kicked 10 yards earlier he would have won a state title, but it was not meant to be.

A couple years later, when he was running track for David Libscomb University, he was on a 4 x 440-yard relay team that set the Tennessee state collegiate record in that event. But after one year there he got married and was left to pass his love of track on to his kids.

So there he and I were last Saturday, seated behind Jarrod’s parents, Dave and Jenny Hart, soaking in the sun on a picture perfect day and reliving track memories of days gone by. Seated to my right was a friendly black man who we shared memories and the day’s events with, and to my dad’s left was a white man who’d had a daughter win a state title a few years before and was just there on this day for the pleasure of it. He, too, was a treat to chat back and forth with.

When it came time for Jarrod to run the 800 that day, the gentleman to my right asked me how I thought he might finish. He’d finished sixth the year before, and according to regional times had the sixth fastest time coming in. So, while I was hoping for the top three, I told the man fifth or sixth. My dad held up four fingers.

Through the first lap and a half of the two-lap race Jarrod hung around sixth place. But coming around the last turn he started to make his move. My dad was yelling louder than Jarrod’s parents, and when Jarrod crossed the finish line in a time that was more than 1.5 seconds better than his previous personal best, he’d earned himself a state runner-up title.

And to top it off, in a surprise move, he did it wearing the very same jersey his dad wore when he was running track for Hillsboro.

After the race, when Jarrod came up to talk to his parents, you could tell he was a little disappointed he didn’t win. But it’s not often that anyone cuts more than 1.5 seconds off their personal best time at the state meet. So I think he was at least somewhat satisfied, too, but it’s that desire to be a winner that will serve him well when he’s running track next year at the University of Cincinnati.

In truth, I have no idea exactly what Jarrod was feeling last Saturday. But I do I know this – he made two old track junkies very happy they made that trip back to Columbus again.

Timesgazette Vaulter Magazine
Timesgazette Vaulter Magazine


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