Everyone was excited about the start of the new millennium in the year 2000, but there were purists who argued that the new century really didn’t technically start until 2001.

And for Wisconsin prep track fans, there may have been a point in that assertion. Old 20th century rules were still in force in the year 2000, Wisconsin private schools were still holding their own state events and girls were not allowed to pole vault.

But in 2001, WISAA, the association representing state independent schools (largely parochial, religious-based schools), decided it would be in its best interests to cease operations and merge with the much larger WIAA.

Things have never been the same since. The merger broadened the pool of competition in WIAA sponsored sports and created true, undisputed state champions but it also opened up all kinds of often unhappy conversations about the competitive advantages some of the private schools have in bringing the best athletes to their schools.

Conversations that are still going on 20 years later.

But given that, the merger has for the most part worked. What it meant for track is that the number of schools entered into the three-class WIAA state meet program in 2001 jumped from 378 in 2000 to 424. More on the true impact of that change in later posts.

Also occurring in 2001 was the addition of new events to both the girls and boys programs. The pole vault was added to the girls event list and it was an idea long in coming. Some felt it was too dangerous for girls to try, like the dubious case made several decades earlier that women couldn’t run over 800 meters under the naive fear of physical harm.

Try telling that to well-known long-distance divas Suzy Favor, Lori Wolter, Camille Davre, and Molly Seidel etc., and to the pole vault queens of the 21st century such as Liza Lewis of Ashwaubenon, Jenny Soceka of Madison Memorial, Laura Massey of Lancaster and Bonnie Draxler of Wrightstown and they’d look at you as if you had three eyes and four arms.

Girls were always meant to run fast and far as well as fly high.

The addition of the pole vault to the girls event list would also have an impact on the boys program as a long standing favorite, the 4 x 200 relay, which was eliminated from the boys program after 1983, also returned in 2001, and helped usher in the great new era of relay running.

An era still ongoing that saw teams and programs like Muskego, Milwaukee Vincent, Brookfield East, Freedom, and Menomonee Falls on the boys’ side and Edgar, Sussex Hamilton, Bradley Tech and West Bend West on the girls’ refine, improve and take to new rarefied heights the art of running as a single unit.

But more on them later, too.

Because before all that, the 2000 meet in La Crosse put a solid capstone on the old format and had much to call treasure. One individual in particular, shall we say, would cast his image in “stone” for all Wisconsin track history.

Andrew Rock of Stratford had a nice 1999 D3 state meet, finishing second in the 300 intermediate hurdles, fourth in the long jump and fifth in the 110 high hurdles as he helped the Tigers to a third place team finish.

He was expected to be a factor in the 2000 state meet, but he did far more than that. What he essentially did do was take the meet over. He won the 110 highs, the 300 intermediates (with a still standing division record of 38.1 in the prelims), the 200 dash (with a then division record of 22.0) and the long jump, single-handedly lifting the Tigers into a second place finish in the state D3 standings behind champion Marshall.

He became the first and still only, boy to win four individual events at a state meet. The early Wisconsin and Olympic legend A. E. Kraenzlein of Milwaukee East won five events in the first WIAA meet in 1895 before athletes were limited to four events per meet.

But that impressive effort didn’t gain Rock much national attention, so he came back to UW-La Crosse as a collegian, where he blossomed on an exponential scale, becoming arguably, one of the greatest DIII track athletes of all time. He would go on to win nine national titles, earn 17 All-American honors and turn in the fastest 400 dash on the DIII level ever (44.66).

For good measure, he earned academic All-American status too: twice.

But he wasn’t done yet.

Rock then earned berths on two US national teams and would make noise on the international scene, claiming a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics as part of the 4 x 400 relay (he ran in the prelims). He would repeat that feat at the World Championships a year later (running on the finals unit) and would also earn a silver medal in the 400 dash (personal best 44.35).

To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised UW-La Crosse hasn’t put a statue of him by the main gate of Memorial Stadium.

The 2000 meet would also see Marcus Ver Duin of Howards Grove set a DIII mark in the 100 dash (10.78).  Another DIII mark was claimed by Ryan Jacobson of Gibraltar (48.85). DII boys records went to Hans Schmidt of Park Falls in the pole vault (15-1), the Two Rivers 4 x 800 relay team (8:00.65) and to the 4 x 400 crew of DII team champ Grafton (3:22.95).

That year, Andy Richards of Sauk Prairie won the D2 boys long jump for the third straight year with an all-classes best of 22-11 3/4.

The only record on the girls side went to Sussex Hamilton’s Jenny Prochazka in the D1 shot put (46-1/4). As I noted in an earlier post, Christina Clark of Madison La Follette won her third straight D1 girls 400 crown.

Team championships went to Waukesha West, Two Rivers and Fall Creek in the girls competition. West and D3 runner-up Edgar would have many more good days going forward in La Crosse while on the boys side Racine Park, Grafton and Marshall all won division championships.

The meet closed the door on one era and opened it on another. Rapid change was coming that would sharpen the competition, force athletes and teams to up their games dramatically turning the next decade into a prep track lover’s paradise.

A new training format called the Baylor Method, with its focus on 400-meter training, would come to revolutionize the 200, 400 and 800-meter based events.

But first there was the year 2001, a time where the weather gods laughed and laughed at all of us who dared to venture to La Crosse in early June expecting a pair of nice days.

Boy, did they ever!

UP NEXT: 2001 where only tough athletes and tough teams survived and really, did it honestly rain that hard for five hours straight? Yes, unfortunately, it did!