Every time there is a sudden burst or gust of wind during the Howard Wood Dakota Relays, I can't help but wonder if the ghosts of meets past are circling above and reminding us what is happening in front of us is special.
We may not know how special until later but it is history in the making - a very personal and joyful kind to those who compete, their supporters and everyone else taking it all.
I sometimes look up, and stare deep into the skies and I think I can see them -- the Reinharts, Theelers, Gebharts, Callahans, Woods, Lukens, Heidenreichs, DeHavens, Flores, Pribyls, Brosts and thousands of others running, jumping and throwing.
Give it a chance tomorrow before the Howard Wood Dakota Relays kick off on Friday afternoon at Howard Wood Stadium. Use a little imagination and those performances will appear like visions of a track meet. Maybe you will see yourself and the wonderful memories that the Howard Wood Dakota Relays provided, even as time has separated you from those days of Howard Wood Relays past. Then, come back to reality and watch the wonder of the Wood as events unfold. It is a meet that will keep you captivated if not on the edge of your seat.
In full disclosure, I have never run a race on the Wood stadium track. Some might say, I haven't run on any track (I have). No, I didn't throw one of the implements, nor ventured the skies in the pole vault. I wasn't on the high jump track nor was I even a starter (leave that to Dean Mann, Rich Hansen and others past and present).
About seven years ago, I experienced the Wood for the first time and it was a privilege. I was working at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays as a press steward, someone assisting the brilliant announcers, who in this generation are Greg Merrigan and Mike Holt. I continue to work with them and people like Kevin Brady, Linda Hengeveld, Rick Brommer and others who are part of a large Wood volunteer contingent that make the meet happen.
It is a privilege to work with those professionals; kudos to Mike and Greg (and Jim Burt before them), who give voice to the great performances that have captivated crowds for 87 years.
The Howard Wood Dakota Relays of yesterday and today is one of the most organized and important athletic functions that I have been part of. Credit needs to go to past leaders, like Wally Diehl and Dean Mann and others, and now to Mark Meile, who is one of the organized and professional people around. He keeps his volunteers charged up with a personable approach and a straight-forward problem-solving approach.
The Wood, as so many of us hail it, is one of the unique and special track and field events in the Midwest.
South Dakota women's track coach Lucky Huber recently told me how he feels about the Wood Relays.
"The Howard Wood Relays is what makes track and field such a big part of the athletic culture in South Dakota," said Huber. "If you don't have the relays, track is a lot different in this state. It is one of the few times that young athletes get to compete against everybody across the state and region. You get to see a hurdler from Pukwana run against a Rapid City kid. They get to compete and that is important for everyone to see. If all these things are separate and you don't get to see these them and you don't have the energy and kids don't see how others are fired up about this sport, you will have lost something important. To be able to compete against the best in the state (or region) motivates all the athletes, who strive to be better. It is because they get to be part of that track culture at the Wood. That event is part of the track and field theater in South Dakota and is what really helps fuel the sport's interest level in South Dakota," he said.
The meet was started in 1923 by longtime SF Washington coach Howard Wood. Originally named the Dakota Relays, it was renamed the Howard Wood Dakota Relays in 1949 after Wood's death. The first track meet was held at the 10th Street Viaduct, which later became known as the first Howard Wood Field. The meet moved to the current location in 1957. The USD-Notre Dame football games of 1914 (ND 33 USD 0) and 1916 (ND 21 USD 0) were also played at that 10th street site.
Here are some moments from Wood meets past. There are so many more not listed here that maybe this blog will become a working document (adding more and more as time goes). If anybody has a Howard Wood story to relate, please email me at email@example.com. I am putting together a history on this meet, which will eventually be added to sdsportshistory.com.
1925: Joie Ray of Chicago, co-holder of the world record in the mile, defeated Sioux Falls native Gerald Gill of Idaho. Gill was South Dakota first' distance runner to attract attention. There were many others later including 1964 Olympic champion at the 10K Billy Mills of Pine Ridge, Olympian Buddy Edelen of Sioux Falls Washington, who once held the world record in the marathon and starred at Minnesota. There was Steve Heidenrech of Watertown, who was the Big Ten's top miler for Indiana before he was injured in a tragic hit and run accident;vMadison's Jeff Schemmel, Huron's Rod DeHaven, former SDSU standout Garry Bentley, Rapid City Stevens' Erik Grumstrup and now Tony Smoragiewicz of Rapid City Central, among others.
1938-39: The Argus Leader reported in 1986 that the Dakota Relays were held annually except in 1938-39. Next year - 2012 - will be the second break as the stadium undergoes major construction.
1952: Dennis Nelson of Hurley tossed the discus 162-6 to better the previous Wood mark by 21 feet.
1953: Joe Quintal of Mitchell was named the first honorary referee of the Howard Wood Relays.
1956: This year was noteworthy in that it was the last time the meet was held at the original Wood Field at the 10th street viaduct. Since 1957, the meet has been held at Howard Wood Stadium on Russell Street.
1959: SF Washington won four of five relays, only a disqualification in the sprint medley stopped Elmer Hansen's crew from sweeping all five relays. They won the two-mile relay in a record of 8:19.5 with Ron Jacobson, Mike Savold, Dutch Haaland, and Dick Callahan, who later played for Nebraska's football squad. The group broke a 36-year Wood record. They won the mile in 3:30 with Haaland, Savold, Callahan, and Bud Werner. Washington's 880-yard relay won in 1:32.6 with Loren Little, Bill Anderson, Jon Hays and Werner. Washington's 440 relay had a record-tying effort with Little, Anderson, Hays and Werner. Interesting that Denny Busch added to his own prep Pole vault mark by going 12-5.
Also in 1959, "Smokey" Joe Mendel became the first inductee into the Howard Wood Dakota Relays Hall of Fame. Mendel, who prepped at Onida and later starred at Yankton College, single-handedly let Onida to a state title in 1926 by winning four events.
1962: On May 5, Gary Schwartz of Wessington Springs unleashed a remarkable discus toss of 190 feet, 7 1/2 inches, breaking Denny Nelson's discus record by 28 feet. Schwartz had a throw that sent him to the top of the prep ranks nationally. After leaving Wessington Springs, he went onto lead the Kansas Jayhawks to Big Conference titles in 1965-66. Later he was the head women's track coach at Penn State where he was the NCAA DI coach of the year.
The Clear Lake Cardinals sprint medley relay team took off the longest standing record at the Wood by winning Class B in 3:45.4 with a team of Gary Veen, George Bader, John Hawley and Deane Bjerke.
1963: A couple of noteworthy happenings highlighted the Wood Relays in 1963. John Thomas of Boston, Mass., cleared 7-1 1/4 in the high jump, breaking the seven-foot mark for the 105th time in his career. During an exhibition at Howard Wood, Thomas thrilled a crowd of 4,000 by becoming the first man to go seven feet at the Wood or in South Dakota. He bettered the stadium mark of 6-9 by Ken Ashley of Willamette (Ore.) University at the 1961 NAIA meet.
1972: For the first time, girls were able to compete at the Wood Relays. A year later, the meet returned to a two-day format of earlier years. In 1977, the Wood board of directors held a fundraiser to underwrite a $40,000 private sector portion of the new all-weather track's cost. Through an all-weather benefit football game (Brandon Valley and O'Gorman), the Wood field sported the new track in 1978.
Also in 1972, Carl Hesse (Sioux City East prep) of USD, Springfield set the men's U/C shot put record at 58-6 1/2, a mark that is the oldest record in the books.
1973: Jim Reinhart of Sioux Falls Lincoln owns the all-time state mark of 4:06.30 in the 1600 meters but went 4:09.74 at the Wood. In that same Dakota Relays, Reinhart led the Lincoln boys 1600 meter sprint medley relay to a record of 3:27.44, the second longest remaining record on the books. Reinhart, who later starred at Notre Dame, also owns the state mark of 1:51.1 in the 800, although he didn't run it at Howard Wood.
1978: This was the year that my Gettysburg Battlers won (tied Platte) the Class A state title. That year the Battlers also picked up a Howard Wood Relays win in the 800-meter relay (Brad Tennant, Pat Simon, John Lomheim and David Langslet) in 1:34.2 (no record, but those are my boys). A year later, the Battlers won the 400 relay with Jeff Bohnenkamp, Pat Simon, John Lomheim and Brad Tennant and finished tied with Elkton (Erv and Ev Gebhart - starred at SDSU) and Tri Valley in the 800-meter relay. I must also mention Ron Schneider, the Battlers standout sprinter who led Gettysburg to a third place finish at the state meet in 1976. Later a standout at SDSU, Schneider tied a Wood record with a 9.9 clocking in 1976.
In that same year, the second longest field event record still on the books was made by Don Maryott of USD, who went 25'5 in the men's U/C long jump.
1979: Current Redfield track coach Yvette Greer (Albrecht) was a college friend of mine at The University of South Dakota, who also cast her star on Howard Wood. The Sioux City West standout, who won two Iowa state titles in hurdle events, won the 100 meter hurdles in 15.0, the 100 in 12.7 and anchored titles for USD's 400 and 800 relay teams.
Don't forget the sizzling performance of Armour's Dennis Tiefenthaler, who came in at 49.2.
1984: Rod DeHaven, now the SDSU head track coach, set a record in the 3,200 meter run with a 9:08.59 clocking, a mark that will be tested by Smoragiewicz, who has run 10 seconds faster than that this year. Smoragiewicz and Grumstrup are the only South Dakota runners to break nine minutes in the 3200m. Grumstrup had a 8:56.3 to set the mark in 2001 while Smoragiewicz has gone 8:57.65 this year.
Also in 1984, Jeff Gross of Augustana turned a few heads by clocking a 46.28 in the 400-meters. Gross had a better time that year clocking a 45.54 - the only 45-second 400-meter runner in South Dakota history.
1988: One of the greatest performances at the high school level occurred with Scott Benson of Rapid City Stevens in 1988 when he went 7-2 in the boys high jump. The men's college mark still hasn't surpassed that mark although Cameron Helder and Ben Jasinski of SDSU set a record of 7-0 1/2 in 2009 and Randall Carter, competing unattached, went the same height in 2010.
1997: Jill Theeler, who prepped at Mitchell High and later led NDSU to a national D2 indoor title, was one of the most popular Wood performers. Theeler, a 19-time D2 All-American for NDSU, had a record-breaking performance of 24.27 in the 200-meters in 1997. The time by Theeler, now an associate A.D. at USD, remains second best in state history.
2003: Field turf replaced the grass infield in a renovation project at the stadium which has a seating capacity of 10,000.
2004: Sam Pribyl, who was a Webster, S.D., standout before winning a national title for USD in the pole vault in 2006, did a high wire act during 2004. He set the U/C men's pole vault mark of 17'5 in winning his second Wood title. He broke the school record and the Stadium mark of two-time Olympian Derek Miles with this performance. It was also the top outdoor mark in DII at that point in the season.
2005: One of my favorite all-time South Dakota performers is Stephanie Gebhart. The Elkton, S.D., standout set numerous records in high school and college and was MVP of the 2005 B State Meet. A 21-time DII All-American at USD (most in school history), she lit up the Howard Wood crowd in 2005 by clocking a 54.08 in the 400-meters while running for the Coyotes. Also during that meet, Allen Burrell of NDSU set 100-meter (10.29) and 200-meter (20.97) marks in the men's U/C division. Without mentioning Ramsay Kavan, the former Yankton prep standout and USD All-American, would be wrong. She electrified the Wood crowd in 2005 when she broke five minutes in the 1,600 meters with a record clocking of 4:55.09.
2006: Molly Belling of Nebraska-Omaha opened some eyes by setting records in the 100-meter (11.67) and 200-meters (23.97). In that same meet, Eric Flores of Custer busted out a shot put throw of 67-4 1/2, a mark that remains at the top of the record book. Beresford's Kyle McKelsey, who has already set the state mark at 68-0 this year, could break Flores' Wood mark.
Also in 2006, Allison Eckert of Sioux Falls Roosevelt set the girls 3,200 meter run mark at 10:19.74. It was a proud moment for her parents, including dad Joe, a friend (and former fantasy football league rival).
2009: I also recall Watertown prep Leslie Brost's pole vault performance two years ago while competing for NDSU. While she also won a title in 2010, she set the record of 13'7 3/4 in 2009 in a remarkable effort. USD's Bethany Buell, who was second in 2010, has gone 13'7 this year and may spring a record jump in 2011.
Another outstanding performance came from Jasmine King who set the 100-meter mark of 11.98 in 2009 while running for Rapid City Central.
Gayville's Emma Erickson, who won two national 800-meter titles (indoor and outdoor) for USD while the Coyotes competed in Division II before moving up to DI, set a U/C women's 800-mark running unattached. Erickson, who owns the Coyote women's indoor and outdoor 800-meter records, had a clocking of 2:07.14.
2010: While many people know that George Amundson, a Aberdeen Central prep star who went to Iowa State and played in the NFL for three seasons, set the discus record with an incomparable throw of 211-4 in 1969 at the South Dakota state meet, he doesn't own the Howard Wood mark. Rather that is held by Cody Snyder, who now competes for Dave Gottsleben's Coyote men. Snyder of Andes Central had a throw of 191'6 a year ago to beat Wessington Springs standout Gary Schwartz's high school boys mark of 190-7 1/2 set in 1962.
Snyder's performance was phenomenal but Laura Roesler, who was among the greatest field of high school girls 800-meter runners ever assembled in South Dakota, captured the hearts of the Wood crowd.
Roesler, who now runs for national power Oregon, wooed the Howard Wood audience for four years and as a senior clocked a 2:05.76 in winning the girls special 800-meters. Her time was the fastest prep time nationally at that point in the season.
In fact, both Carly Paracholski of Sisler Manitoba High School (Canada), who had a second place clocking of 2:08.25 and junior Shelby Houlihan of Sioux City East with a third place time of 2:08.58 also had times better than the previous Wood record. To that point in the 2010 prep season, those times were the three fastest prep times nationally. In addition, Roesler's time is the best 800-meters ever run by either a high school or collegiate runner in South Dakota history.
For records, event schedules and other Howard Wood Dakota Relays information, go to http://www.dakotarelays.com/. I am attaching the Wood records here as well -- http://www.dakotarelays.com/records.php