In 2002, the late and still lamented site Wisconsintrackandfield.com and its champion/editor former Ladysmith 330-yard low hurdle state titlist Mark Rongstad put together a love letter to Wisconsin prep track lovers.
It was the Wisconsin High School Track and Field Yearbook which was a compendium of all things prep track for the 2001-02 school year in Wisconsin. It included results, best-of-all-time lists, where-are-they-now items and an essay I wrote in the middle about the state track meet that probably needed more editing. It would also include cross country in later issues.
I was in seventh heaven about this publication, not just because it gave me another byline, but because it went in depth about Wisconsin prep track, an often cold and rainy endeavor covered and followed and participated in by only the hardiest of souls including me.
It would run a brilliant six years through 2007 before it ended and Mark gracefully allowed me to write the state meet essay each issue. It was a gas, as along with my state meet notes for my day job at Community Newspapers covering the kids from suburban Milwaukee, I would now also make sure to get some key quotes from the best athletes from around the state to make the essay as interesting as possible.
In short, it was a blissful endeavor for me.
In 2004, in an effort to make the yearbook essay a little more diverse, I called up future WISTCA State Hall of Fame coach Lynn Sonnentag of the Arcadia girls to talk about the Raiders back-to-back state D3 championships (and third overall). She and the Raiders would move up to D2 later and win two more state titles in that division in 2008 and 2009 (more on them in a later post).
She told me about how there hadn’t even been a track at the school in the early 1980s and how they had to practice on a road behind the elementary school, and that, at times, they didn’t even have jump pits.
Despite all that adversity, Sonnentag and retired Arcadia boys coach and fellow WISTCA HOF inductee Richard Fredrickson prospered and built their respective programs into state powers.
The Arcadia boys under Fredrickson set a standard that was hard to beat. The Raiders would win six D3 titles in the 1990s (1991-92, 94-95, 98-99). The initial pair of crowns helped get a new school athletic complex built in 93-94 and then the program was really off to the races. The fuel behind these championships was strength in the long sprints as the Raiders would win five 4 x 400 relay titles in this stretch.
It would be the stuff of legends at times as the 1998 title squad won the team championship by one point over Darlington on the strength of its 4 x 400 anchored by Jack Knudson, which edged Oostburg by just .15 of a second at the finish.
A major star for Arcadia in that time was three-time 300 intermediate hurdle state champion Doug Rebhahn (1994-96) who would also be part of the Raiders (then D3) state record 4 x 400 relay in 1995.
D.C. Everest and Racine Park rose to prominence in D1 boys competition in the 1990s too. Everest followed the path that Arcadia took, building its program through numbers.
Everest’s rise was linked solidly with that of the Evergreens’ dominating 4 x 100 relays which they won in four consecutive years (1993-96). Not surprisingly, they won state team crowns in 1994 and 1996 and were second in 1995 behind these efforts. The 1996 4 x 1 turned in its fastest time of that stretch (42.7) behind the anchor of Josh Dickerson, who also won the 100 dash and was second in the 200.
That Everest 4 x 100 title empire was the longest in the event since that of the legendary Milwaukee South juggernaut from 1984-87. Milwaukee Vincent would also make the event its own personal domain in the early 2000s and still other programs would build strength through relays.
There were other relay empires established in the 1990s as Cedar Grove won the first three D3 titles of the brand-new 4 x 800 relay (1994-96). Its time of 8:00.3 in 1995 would stand as a class record for 11 years until Sheboygan Lutheran broke it in 2006.
And one other 4 x 800 relay string of dominance was just getting underway, as Grafton won the D2 crowns in 1998 and 1999. The Black Hawks would win three more in succession a few years after that feat (2003-2005) as well as take a D2 team title in 2000.
State championship teams, especially in D1, are usually made up of a couple of event champions plus a few key supporting players. Racine Park took a different route in winning in state championships in 1997 and 1998, not winning a single event either year, but just using a strong collection of placewinners to get the job done.
When the Panthers won their third title in four years in 2000, they took the more traditional path as Patrick Hunter won both the 100 and 200 dashes and Ben Gregory claimed the 800.
After Scott Synold of Tosa West set a long-standing pole vault record of 15-7 in 1994, along came Steve Slattery of Wisconsin Rapids who would dominate the event from 1996-98, with a best effort of 15-3 in 1998. Also in 1998, Melrose-Mindoro’s Ben Stern brought the D3 record into the range of the high flyers with a flight of 15-0.
Oshkosh North’s Darrin Charles had a brilliant run in the high jump, winning three consecutive titles from 1999-2001, impressively clearing 6-10 in both 2000 and 2001. He was also the state football player of the year for the 2000 D1 state champion Spartans. In addition to all that, he had nice career as a wide receiver for the Wisconsin football team and then became an aspiring actor in southern California.
NEXT TIME: Yes, as I promised before, I will now take a look at two more girls four-time event champions, the rise of the Whitewater girls program, still more 400 and 800 meter prodigies and the idea that it’s very good to be a strong woman.