We at the old Community Newspapers, as we were known for decades, weren’t normally in the habit of sending anyone to the state track meet in the early days of fat papers and big sports staffs (1970s and 1980s).
We covered the inner ring suburbs of Milwaukee with a fervor and had a philosophy back then that I still believe in: The more names, the more stories, and the more photos we could get into our then fat-with-advertising 20-plus weekly papers, the better.
That idea was clearly at work when a young and single track nut-burger, weaned on the distance running excellence of his prep alma mater Menomonee Falls North in the 1970s and 80s, jumped up and said “I’ll do it! I’ll cover state track!”
That person, clearing lacking any skills of self-preservation, was of course, me.
The year was 1990, the first year of WIAA state track in La Crosse. As noted in a previous blog entry, I missed the first day due to a wedding, but got up hyper early and red-eyed it there with my poor overworked little Dodge Spirit for the Saturday finals.
I have never been and never will be mistaken for a photographer (with some poor, well-meaning attempts intermingled over the last 38 years) so Community contracted with an intrepid young freelancer named Erik Daily. Daily, who was just starting what would be a terrific career with the La Crosse Tribune, was eager to make a name for himself and agreed to the fairly extensive list of priorities we needed.
Not having any real computers or cellphones with excellent weather apps at that particular time, we had no idea of what was to face us that day, since the La Crosse weather gods, as they would do repeatedly over the next 30 years on this particular weekend, laughed maniacally at us.
But before that happened, there were also storms occurring on the track. Bryan Jones of Nicolet, who anchored the Knights to a record shattering 3:16.09 time in the 4 x 400 meter relay in the trials the night before, blistered the track and destroyed the boys open 400 record with a clocking of 47.12 that is still the D1 mark and stood as the all-state mark until national level talent Kenny Bednarek of D2 Rice Lake made everyone gasp with a remarkable 46.73 effort in 2018, part of what I would argue was the greatest individual state meet performance ever (more on that in a later post).
Nicolet, which was essentially a team of all stars, would dominate the D1 boys team competition in 1990 as Jones would also win the 200 dash and anchor that record-setting relay to victory in Saturday’s finals.
Meanwhile, the girls 1990 state meet was a continuance of what happened in the 1970s and 80s after Title IX finally kicked down the door and allowed young women to compete. The meet was just a showcase, giving great talent the chance to shine over and over again.
Suzy Favor of Stevens Point had dominated the distances and Esther Jones of Bay View had done so in the sprints in the 1980s. Both were Olympic level talent (Esther Jones would win an Olympic gold medal as part of the American 4 x 100 in 1992), but now Favor gave way to the likes of Amy Wickus of Baraboo while Esther Jones passed the baton to Dana Collins of Milwaukee Marshall.
Wickus finished up her run of three straight D1 WIAA 400 and 800 titles in La Crosse in 1990 and would go on to become a multi-time Big 10 titlist, All-American and NCAA champion while at the University of Wisconsin. She would also participate for Team USA in two World Track Championships (1993 and 1995) just for icing on the cake.
Meanwhile, Collins would lead Marshall to a share of the D1 girls team title in 1990 with the first of three crowns in the 200 dash and powerful legs on championship 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relays. All told, she would win nine total WIAA state sprint championships before graduating in 1992 and conducting an international track career that would last several years.
Further, her legacy has been carried on by her daughters Mariah Williams and Makayla Jackson at Milwaukee King, where they helped the Generals win state team titles in 2016 and 2017.
Other fast women establishing legacies in 1990 included West Bend West’s Rebecca Butt who won her second of three straight D1 100 high hurdle titles, Wendy Zak of Gibraltar, who claimed the second of her three D3 3,200 crowns, and Heather Murphy of North Crawford, who captured the first of what would be three straight D3 800 championships.
But for all that accomplishment, it was by and large, the weather that stole the show on this ill-fated first state Saturday in La Crosse. Shortly after Bryan Jones set his 400 record and while Daily and I were working the D1 boys shot put, where Nicolet’s Ed Nwagbaraocha would edge his North Shore Conference rival and discus champ Peter Leach of Whitefish Bay for the title, the first of two fronts moved through quite abruptly.
This first one meant business. I looked up at the nasty looking cloud bank and yelled to Daily, “Grab your stuff and run!” Moments later, it was as if the heavens dumped a full bucket on our heads. It remained pitch black and pouring for more than 45 minutes as everyone looked for any available shelter.
The rain mercifully stopped as quickly as it started and after the UW-L track crew kids put the squeegees to the track and dried things off as well as possible, the meet resumed.
A quick aside: I tell you, those UW-L students, almost always members of the university’s track team, have been indispensable in keeping the meet moving along these past 30 years. They’ve moved tons of equipment, set up thousands of hurdles and shuttled a million warm-ups from one end of the track to the other.
In short, nothing would happen without them. Immense gratitude to all of them, thank you!
Anyway, after the rain, the meet moved on quickly until just before the last set of events, the boys 3,200 and 4 x 400 relay, and that’s when the second front came through, only this one was more cunning and craven in its intent.
No, it didn’t drop any rain, but what it did do was shift the wind dramatically and harshly around to the north. In the space of just minutes, the temperature dropped from a muddy 70-plus degrees (approximately) to a chilly 50 degrees or so and the wind stayed out of the north the rest of the day making it feel even colder.
So, now everyone who was soaking wet an hour or two earlier was now freezing, including me. Not surprisingly, I caught a lung-heaving four-day case of bronchitis a couple of days after getting home.
It almost, I tell you, ALMOST made me swear off track (silly thought).
And needless to say, the 3,200-meter runners as well as the subsequent 4 x 400 relay competitors were none too thrilled with the north wind as their times were slowed to a crawl.
There was also a bit of drama in the D1 3,200 as rising sophomore Andy Bosley of Homestead won a stretch duel with Aaron Bouplon of Marinette only to be later disqualified for a lane violation.
It was not a popular decision with Bosley, his coaches or anyone else in the Mequon/Thiensville area for that matter.
“I maintain my innocence,” Bosley chuckled 30 years later.
But Bosley, who would later coach his son Drew at Homestead to back-to-back dramatic state victories in both the 1,600 and 3,200 in both 2018 and 2019, would have his revenge, claiming the 3,200 title in both 1991 and 1992 as well as the 1,600 championship in 1992.
“The upside of that race (the 3,200 DQ) was that it was like pouring gasoline on a fire,” Bosley said in a text. “The next two years I was very determined to win!”
That much was abundantly clear.
As for me, after staying over with an old college friend, I met Daily on Sunday morning and he delivered a glistening packet of excellent photos that served us at Community News well for the coming week’s issue.
I headed home, a busy deadline and an eventual appointment with a doctor awaiting me.
But now the template was set for future state track meets in La Crosse. There was excellence and controversy, old talents finishing up terrific careers and new talents setting themselves up for future glory.
In short, everyone was excited about next year’s state meet in this new venue and hoping (often in vain) that it wouldn’t rain!
Next: The early 1990s. The rise of the Westphals and double-stuffed Oreos.