Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Class

In their own words:

Some of the Sport's Greatest Stars 
Why They Succeeded

Anniversary of First US Track and Field High School 
Hall of Fame Ceremony

Copyright 2019. Mark Cullen/ All Rights Reserved.

Tonight the second class of the National High School Track and Field Hall of Fame will be inducted at the New York Athletic Club.

I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of the first class one year ago at the invitation of Linda Prefontaine, who was there to speak on behalf of her brother, Steve.

Before the March 8, 2018, ceremony, I asked inductees (or their representatives) why they thought they were included in the inaugural class – what did they think it took to have been included in such august company?

The next day, as the New Balance Indoors national high school championships took place in The Armory, I asked three athletes there what they thought it would take for them to qualify for the Hall of Fame in the future.

Allyson Felix, sprints and relays
I think first and foremost it’s a love of the sport - having a true passion for it - and being dedicated and seeing the long term picture and just going after it. When I think about high school I think about having so much fun – with my friends, with my teammates – that’s what sticks out to me is those friendships and those relationships. Working together for a common goal – that’s really what sticks out.

What is the source of your drive?

A lot of it came from family. Even though my parents weren’t athletes they were hard workers who taught me never to give up and never to quit. That’s something I brought to track and field and I hope to take it into other ventures as well.

Kathy McMillan, ’76, long jump
I think first of all it’s an amazing honor and I think that what it took to get here was the right people motivating me and encouraging me to do well in high school and do well in athletics and to do well in life. It’s a lot of hard work – something that I love doing.

Mc Millan cites her brother, Alexander Jim, as an inspiration.
He played football, and I would go out and train with him. I would run with him and he would encourage me to do well and he would say that he saw a lot of talent and ability and that I would do well in track.

And also my high school coach, William Colston, encouraged me a lot, too.

Encourage young athletes to stay encouraged and to love what they do. It doesn’t have to be track and field. They can be successful in their own career.

Chandra Cheeseborough, ’77, sprints
A pure love of the sport.

I don’t think that when we participated in high school that we were looking for anything. I think that we really genuinely loved track and field. We went out every day and did our very best. We worked hard and it paid off. Now we’re reaping the fruits.

On being a member of this first class: That is so amazing! It’s something you can’t ever take away. Knowing everyone will come after us. That is such an honor and a blessing to be the first.

She was joined at the ceremony by her daughter. They (her family) are very excited that (their Mom) be honored and blessed to be recognized.

We reminisced about the 1976 Olympic Trials in Eugene, the first track and field event I ever covered, as well as that summer’s Montreal Olympic Games.

’76. I remember being the fastest 17 year old in the 100m final in Montreal.

’76. To see the fan base in Eugene was so awesome. I go back there now with my college team and it was just unreal! People were behind you whether you were from Oregon or whatever school - they were just rooting on a good performance.

Montreal. We were young and we used to get in a little trouble and the manager (Evie Dennis)  had to call our coach and get us back on track, but we had fun and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.”

John Dye,
Perhaps the single inductee with the greatest sense of awe and wonder at his induction was 82-year-old founder John Dye.

“I’m amazed just now people I’ve never met before are coming to talk to me. It’s so humbling. It blows my breath away. 30 people out of a first hundred years of high school track! It just shows what the power of the internet did – it just changed communications.

“We created an (online) community of people who were interested in high school track. I had so many kids tell me they got more publicity on DyeStat than they did in their hometown newspapers.

“(DyeStat) took an awful lot of hard work – persistence, follow through, and perseverance.

“Allyson Felix persevered – she came out of high school 15 years ago and she’s an Olympic Champion. She’s the most amazing one in my time.

“I was 60 years old before I started the website. There would never had been a Dyestat if my kids hadn’t gone out for track. I just wanted to keep track of their competition.”

Once Dye received results in Maryland for his son in high jump and his daughter in pole vault, then they wanted to know how they ranked nationally, and “DyeStat blossomed from there.”

And how did he come to choose to list the top 100 nationally?

“To make sure my kids are in it,” he laughed. His son, Derek, and daughter, Natalie, came from Japan and Germany, respectively, to be there for their father’s induction ceremony.

Dye was proud of the incentive his lists created. “It becomes the event of a lifetime when a kid comes into their own and they become excellent. It regenerates itself every year as you have new faces every year.”

“Dyestat turned the stats into stories you wanted to follow.”

Tom Newton, son of high school coach, Joe Newton
It’s about a commitment to excellence – when you commit to excellence, you can do anything. I think that’s the key to it, whether you’re a coach or an athlete.

My dad would be thrilled and honored to be here today. He would be looking down here saying, “How sweet it is.”

When you love what you do, you strive to be the best you can be no matter what.

When you look at all the great athletes that are here today, they hate losing. I would challenge any one of them to say, “Oh, I didn’t mind losing.” They hate losing, whether you’re playing cards or running track. They’re competitors, always.

Gerry Lindgren, ’64, distances
I think it takes stubbornness and pain in your heart – not physical pain, but there has to be a reason why this has to be. It comes from the bad things in your life, the things that didn’t go right. The things that make you feel you’re not as good as other people, the things that leave you feeling bad.

Home life was really, really tough. It was like living in a little Vietnam. When I had an opportunity through running to shut the door on that kind of a life and leave it behind me and just go run – I took it! The more time I was running the more time I was away from the home life. There has to be a burning desire that makes it so you have to succeed.

I was just lucky, but I’ve always thought you have to make your own luck. If you do something that no one else is willing to do, then you make your own luck.

Tina Wood, granddaughter of Frank Wykoff, sprints
Tina Wood represented her late grandfather, who was the greatest American sprinter in the period immediately before Jesse Owens.

By the time I knew him, he was done with racing and had become superintendent of public schools in special education in Los Angeles. I just remember him being a great grandpa with a roomful of awards in his house and understanding that that was pretty monumental – and that he ran with Jesse Owens. I’m sure he worked very hard.

As a kid, her dawning realization came when others would say,You know Frank Wykoff?!” – or they knew of him.

I just knew him as my grandpa. At one point he had 8 world records. I’m still learning about him and I’m very happy to be here and to represent the family.

What became of all his medals?

We donated all of his medals to USC

Gina Strachan – Jesse Owens’ granddaughter
“I got to know my grandfather very well and I think he was always humbled by any kind of recognition.

“Work ethic was #1 – that started and continued from the athletic field to his life. I think he would have thought it was the same dedication, the same perseverance, the same hard work and just plain will power to do it on the high school level and to get to a place like Ohio State.

“His relationship with Luz Long was a true and authentic friendship, and he talked about it being just that. Long wrote my grandfather a letter after the Games and before he went to war which my grandfather kept and which we shared with his son, who came to my granddad’s funeral.”

One of the highlights of Strachan’s life was lighting the Olympic cauldron at the dedication of the refurbished Berlin Olympic Stadium with none other than Ragna Long, the granddaughter-in-law of German long jumper Luz Long, silver medalist to Owens in Berlin.

“It was WONDERFUL!” exclaimed Strachan, still awed by the experience. “Wonderful, wonderful. She and I and the families have remained friends for all these years.”

“Our family is just thrilled,” she said of Owens’ induction, “and we are always humbled as to how his legacy has continued over 80 years.”

Alan Webb, 01, middle distances
I think it took a great amount of dedication and the willingness to do things that other people aren’t willing to do. I was pretty disciplined as a senior in high school – it wasn’t an instant change, but it grew on me. If you’re willing to do what it takes from a training and lifestyle standpoint as a high schooler, you will stand out. You will.

I’m going to steal a line from a Prefontaine movie and say, “The hay’s in the barn! So get out there and let the big dog eat.”

Linda Prefontaine, sister of Steve Prefontaine, ’69, distances
Steve Prefontaine did not have to go far to find an accomplished athlete in his family.

In fact, he did not have to leave the house.

His sister, Linda, was a nationally ranked racquetball player of the 1970s who came within one point of winning the national amateur title in 1978.

An outstanding athlete herself, “I get what it takes.”

“It is not normal to set a national high school 2 mile record - not normal,” she said. It takes dedication, discipline, and working harder than everyone else. If you want to be a standout, you have to put out above and beyond the maximum - and not occasionally, consistently.”

In her induction speech she said, “When he started running twice a day, and he would go out and run before the rest of us got up in the house, that was such a new thing in Coos Bay that the police actually stopped him because they thought he had been robbing someplace!

“Steve Prefontaine, as a high school senior in 1969, wrote a paper called “Involvement in Distance Running,” in which he asked a profound question.

“’Why run?’ is a question often asked. Why go out there every afternoon and beat out your brains - what does it prove? Running in itself probably won’t count for much a hundred years from now, or maybe even tomorrow. What is the logic of punishing yourself each day? Of striving to become better? More efficient? Tougher?

“The value of it is what you learn about yourself. In this sort of situation all kinds of qualities come out, things that you may not have seen in yourself before.”

Lynn Bjorklund, ’75, distances
Appreciate the blessings you have in this life.

Don’t let yesterday take up too much time today.

High School Athletes
2018 US Indoor High School National Championships

Jaqueline Gaughan – ’18, G 5000m winner
“I think those people are really driven,” she said of the 2018 inductees. “Not only are they talented but they don’t think of themselves that way. They just want to work as hard as they can – and see what they’re capable of.”

Chad Johnson – ’18, B 5000 winner, is from rural Ohio
“I’ve always loved running – I really enjoy it – I just have to work hard to get somewhere.

“All our roads are a mile long and there’s a cornfield in the middle. If I want to run a hill workout I have to travel 30 miles to find a hill,” which he does, twice a week.

His dream is to “go to the Olympics – it’s as simple as that – that’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid - that’s the ultimate goal is the Olympics.”

“It would take lot of focus,” he said. “You have to love running – I’ve never regretted a day of running.”

“I train smart not hard,” he added.

He listens to the ‘elders’ within his own family.

 “I have four older brothers who are also runners – they are always giving me advice and I take it to heart.”

Katelyn Tuohy, ’20, winner G two-mile, anchor winning distance medley, silver sprint medley
Of the high school athletes interviewed, multiple distance record holder Katelyn Tuohy would have the clearest path to a future induction ceremony, even if she stopped running today, so remarkable have been her freshman and sophomore year exploits.

Not only do you have to be a great runner but you need to have great character. Being on a relay team is a great example: you’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your team.

Running your hardest and believing in yourself and believing in your training and knowing that no matter what you do, if you believe in your training, you can do anything.

When you run you’re doing it for a lot more than just yourself – you have a team, you have coaches, and you have family – you can’t let them down.

Being part of a team is something very special.

Katelyn Tuohy as a sophomore after anchoring her high school
Distance Medley Relay team to a national title.

photo credit: Mark Cullen/
Ed Grant, reporter
We’ll let 91-year old Ed Grant have the last word. For 70 years a New Jersey track and field reporter, the 91 year old Grant brought house down when he said he got the award “because I’m still here!”

He concluded, “When I’m with track people I’m with the best people in the world.”

Research Credit
Steve Underwood wrote the excellent Hall of Fame biographies for this ceremony.
I have relied on these for much of the biographical information used in this article:

Note: As this website is based in Seattle, WA, US, it’s of note locally that Washington State is well-represented tonight (March 10, 2019) with inductees Patty van Wolvelaere, hurdles, Renton High School, ’68, and Casey Carrigan, pole vault, Orting High School, ’69, both of whom made the legendary 1968 US Olympic team as high schoolers.

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