A relative I like a great deal got married on the first Friday in June 1990 and that made me, a full-blown track junkie, do something I am normally loathe to do, miss the first day of the WIAA state meet.
And this was no normal state track meet, as the WIAA had moved the event from the Madison area where it had been held all or in part for many decades to my beloved alma mater UW-La Crosse, which I had graduated from scarcely eight years previously.
Upon hearing of the change in location the previous year, my nostalgia of both brutal hangovers and hard studying was overwhelming as Memorial Stadium is barely 30 yards from my old dorm of White Hall and is located with a perfect view of the majestic bluffs that ring the city of La Crosse.
The Bluffs as it would turn out, have a whimsical and capricious sense of humor when it comes to affecting the weather on state track weekend and over the past 30 years have either helped radiate golden sunshine and warm temperatures (occasionally) or send howling winds and crashing thunderstorms (more often) upon the masses of athletes, fans, coaches and reporters stuck gaping at the unforgiving sky.
In 1990, I made the mistake of missing the former (the sunshine) on the first day and coming up Saturday morning for the second day just in time to catch the latter (monsoon like rain, which sent both me and a photographer I was working with scurrying for cover under Memorial Stadium).
My cursing the weather that day was just the beginning of a pattern that I and many others would repeat often over the last 30 years.
Because until this unfortunate, dispiriting and monumentally tragic pandemic forced the all-too necessary cancellation of the entire 2020 spring prep sports season by the WIAA (some 30-plus other states were forced to do the same) I had not missed another day of state track at La Crosse since that first one in 1990.
It was a mistake I would not repeat over the years as I not only missed the good weather but also did not see the Nicolet boys, anchored by the amazing long-time 400 dash recordholder Bryan Jones, shatter the state record in the 4 x 400-meter relay, setting a mark that would stand for 26 years (3:16.09).
Jones would laugh at my story of that day some decades later, as he and my friend and brilliant Journal Sentinel preps editor Mark Stewart waited out with me yet another state track rain delay in glorious fashion talking about champions both new and old.
As it turned out my relative’s marriage would not last as long as Nicolet’s 4 x 400 record but did produce some wonderful children.
And in compensation for that one missed day, I have accrued a million other stories and memories of the last 30 years of state track in La Crosse.
I’m going to share several of them in a succession of blog posts over the next month. I’m going to break these pieces down into five-year increments as I recall the numerous highs and the occasional lows I have had covering athletes largely for Community/NOW Newspapers in suburban Milwaukee for more than 32 years, as well as for the Wisconsin State Journal and Conley Newspapers (2017-2019).
I’m not going to list every champion, but I will make note of trends including new events, the increasing number of qualifiers and the stunning range of surpassing athletes that have run, thrown or jumped in front of venerable Grandad’s Bluff over the last 30 years.
Look for the first story covering roughly 1990-94 in a few days.
I hope you enjoy the reading!