For Chris Herriot, coach of the two-time WIAA D1 state track champion Arrowhead boys, one of the coolest parts of the Warhawks’ 40-plus team co-ed track festival on May 6 wasn’t the fact that his squad turned in a stellar effort and took second to a powerful Kimberly squad, nor was it even the epic, much-anticipated, much hyped 400-meter showdown (and rematch) between Waunakee’s Andrew Regnier and Shorewood’s Nathan Cumberbatch (which did indeed live up to its fanfare).

No, it was the reaction he got from Chequamegon’s girls’ 800 and 1,600 champ Autumn Michalski to all the fanfare and excitement that bringing approximately in 1,158 powerhouse athletes representing all enrollment divisions from all corners of the state, can create.

Boys and girls athletes who recorded over 90 MileSplit Wisconsin Top 25 Honor Roll performances this day.

“I do the announcement of the athletes on the podium (the medal winners in each event),” he said, “and I try to look up their state ranking and their awards, and the kids are always so grateful for that. The kid (Michalski) from Chequamegon (located in Park Falls, a mere 271 miles north the way the crow flies from Merton) was so kind, so thankful when that happened.”

And that is exactly the kind of reaction that Herriot and his staff were looking for, as this premier late season event, which has expanded mightily from its humble origins as the Arrowhead Invite in the early 1980s, seeks to fill the shoes of the late-lamented Monona Grove Invite as the pre-eminent pre-WIAA state meet track test in Wisconsin.

“In conversation, the memory of that (Monona Grove) comes up,” said Herriot. “Monona Grove was one of those meets everyone looked forward to in an era where not everyone (elite) saw each other before state.”

And it was as special as everyone remembers.

I got to it a couple of times in the 1990s when working at Community Newspapers, and was geeked out at all the history of the place and the event. Founded in 1960 by the late Hall of Fame Monona Grove track coach (just one of his myriad number of titles) John Klement, the Silver Eagles’ showcase was a Friday night boys’ statewide throw down of elites for several decades before concluding in 2015.

It was the best pre-state boys meet ever in Wisconsin (and there should be no argument about that fact). Herriot remembers it well as a track athlete himself at Kettle Moraine (which he still gets some ribbing for from time-to-time) he ran in it in 1994.

“But I ran into a quad issue issue in 1995 and couldn’t compete there,” he said. “That definitely burned me (chuckles).”

A 1986 Wisconsin State Journal story on that year’s meet by the late sportswriting legend Don Lindstrom details elegantly some of its lasting impact. That year’s iteration of the event was dominated by the Milwaukee South juggernaut that would own Wisconsin boys prep track from 1985-1989. In 1986 the powerful Cardinals would score a record 81 points in the D1 state track meet and then come back and terrorize the state field again in 1987 with 80 points. Those two squads are considered among the very best in Wisconsin history.

South’s state point total would not bested until 2002 when a Madison La Follette juggernaut scored 81.5 points.

The Cardinals scored 100 points to rout the 30-plus team 1986 Monona Grove field doubling up on runner-up Sussex Hamilton. The field, like the Myrhum, featured representatives from teams from all across the state including Wausau, Chippewa Falls, Cuba City, Stevens Point, and a liberal involvement from other Milwaukee area schools.

How good was the Monona Grove meet at the time?

In 1986, South would set excellent meet records in the 4×100 (42.45) and 4×200 (1:28.42 in an event that was years away from returning to WIAA-sanctioned competition), but it also won the 4×400 in a scorching 3:20.78, which strikingly, did NOT break the meet standard of the time (another South team from 1982 edged them out). That 1986 4×400 time was well ahead of the current state best of 3;23.55 set by Herriot’s Arrowhead squad at the recently held Classic 8 Outdoor meet.

Future state track Hall of Famers David Brown of Milwaukee Custer (100 and 200 dashes) and Jim Bender of Watertown (who set meet records in the 110 high and 300 intermediate hurdles) dominated the 1986 proceedings while future NAIA 800 national champion Anthony Suttle of Milwaukee North won the 800.

Bender, a two-time state high hurdle champ was actually somewhat annoyed with his high hurdle time, an elite hand-held 14.0 clocking.

“I wish I could have put the best parts of my final and my semifinal together,” he lamented to Lindstrom. “It was a perfect night for running and I thought this could be my best.”

It was very close.

Monona Grove’s meet records are something of legend and practically all but impossible for almost any other invitational in the state of Wisconsin to match because it drew absolutely the best to its track to the very end. Arguably its last truly great race came in 2014 when D2 multi-time state champion and state 1,600 recordholder Ethan Moehn of Monroe held off West Bend West’s Alec Miller in an 800 for the ages, 1:51.51 to 1:52.65. Moehn’s time is still in the all-time top 10.

One of its meet records is still faster than a current state record, the 41.32 4×100 relay turned in by the state event and team champions from Milwaukee Vincent in 2001.

And frankly, it’s not just the event records that are great, but also their depth of quality. I challenge anyone to come up with a record list for any meet and event (outside of state) as formidable in its sheer excellence and pure name recognition as the top four of the Monona Grove 1,600/mile honor roll.

It can’t be done and I’ll put a sizable chunk of change behind that assertion.

McFarland legend and Olympian Steve Lacy set the meet standard in 1974 (when it was still the slightly longer mile) with a 4:06.2 hand-held time. Seven years later, Kenosha Bradford all-time great Scott Jenkins took a mighty lunge at Lacy and came up just maddeningly short as he turned in a still brilliant 4:06.38 electronic time.

And 12 years prior to that came one of the greatest races in Wisconsin prep track history when WTCA Hall of Famers Glenn Herold of Watertown and Jim Cautley of Madison Memorial turned in identical times of 4:08.4 (again over the mile distance). The terrific black and white photos of that amazing race show the pair hitting the tape in identical form (right leg first) in what had to be almost entirely identical times, even if they had been electronically timed.

The judges gave the win to Herold, but based on the picture no one would have blamed them if they had sided with Cautley instead.

All four of these individuals are deservedly in the WTCA Hall of Fame and three of their four times are still on the all-time state top 10 (Lacy actually went slightly faster in the mile at state in 1974).

These are the kinds of standards the Myrhum is trying to emulate.

Herriot’s vision of turning the Myrhum into a version of Monona Grove started some years ago when the meet was still evolving from a solid end-of-the regular invitational into something much bigger with much higher aspirations.

“My goal was to make it a celebration of track,” Herriot said. “That’s why we moved it to Saturday (from Friday night) because we started it out as a two session meet. First the JV and then the varsity. We tried to keep the 4×4 under the lights, make it special. Soon, so many people were asking to get in.”

And before long, a true co-ed celebration of the sport was created with elites brought in from all corners of the state as well as inclusive wheelchair and Special Olympic events along with a mixed gender 4×400 race. To try and limit entries to within reason, the organizers of the Myrhum came up with qualifying standards. They also moved up some slower heats of the distance races to earlier in the day to try and speed things along a little bit.

“Last year we didn’t get done until 11:30 (p.m.),” said Herriot. “This year, we were done at 8:30.”

Further amping up the interest was Arrowhead Streaming livestreaming the whole eight-hour event. As of May 16, over 4,000 people had viewed all or parts of the Myrhum.

And its well worth your time and effort to watch even if you just pick and choose a few events.

Of course, creating this kind of energy and interest did not happen overnight.

In its modern era one of the Myrhum’s first great gets was another 400 showdown in 2019 as then Stevens Point freshman phenom Roisin Willis (now a two-time NCAA indoor national champion at Stanford as well as author of that now mythic 2:00.03 800 at state in 2022) took down Wausau West senior (and current WIAA state 400 and 300 low hurdle record holder) Brooke Jaworski in an intense race, 54.67-54.97.

It was a true legitimizer for the meet and served as a perfect set up for last year’s 400 race between Waunakee’s Regnier and Shorewood’s Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch won by more than a second in 2022 with a 47.58 (to Regnier’s 48.87). For Cumberbatch, now a University of Southern California (USC) recruit, that race was a precursor to his triple crown in the D2 state meet when he took the 400 and 800 titles and also anchored the Greyhounds’ winning 4×400 relay. That final victory gave Shorewood the D2 state team championship.

Regnier, meanwhile, a North Carolina recruit, won the D1 400 with a 47.8 time.

Adding to the drama surrounding May 6’s rematch at the Myrhum, was what the pair had already done in the 800 in a pair of early April out-state showcases. Both went well under the 1:51.48 WIAA record that Wisconsin Lutheran’s Eric Brown recorded 10 years ago. First, Cumberbatch turned in a 1:50.33 in the Florida Relays. Then a week after that, Regnier became the first Wisconsin prep athlete to go under 1:50 when he turned in an astonishing 1:49.35 at the premiere prep showcase in the country, the Arcadia Invitational in California.

With that level of excellence egging the pair on, it was no surprise that the Myrhum 400 rematch was a race beyond impressive. Regnier got his revenge over Cumberbatch with a gritty comeback effort. Cumberbatch was leading off the final turn but Regnier dug deep and reeled him in in the final meters as he recorded a top five all-time Wisconsin prep time of 47.51, while Cumberbatch came across in a merely superb 47.57.

Both had other successes later in the meet as Regnier anchored the Warriors 4×400 relay team to a victory in what was then a state best of 3:24.82. Cumberbatch took a slightly different tack and anchored the Greyhounds’ victorious mixed sex 4×400.

It was in that mixed sex 4×400 race that Herriot had his prime moment of Arrowhead Warhawk pride. Junior Logan Hicks, already winner of the 110 high hurdles and the 300 intermediate hurdles (state best 38.07) handled anchor leg duties for the Warhawks in that race and had the daunting task of trying to hang with Cumberbatch.

“Logan got the stick about five meters behind him and I think by the end, he may have made up a meter,” said Herriot. “We had him in a 47.7 split. It was a real ‘Holy Cow!’ moment for us.”

As Regnier and Waunakee will again compete in D1 and Cumberbatch and Shorewood will look to defend their D2 state title, this was the only opportunity state fans will get to see the pair in a race together this season outside of any post-state meet national events the duo might enter.

Herriot was happy to provide the opportunity.

“It really surprised us, that the race (men’s 400) came together as easily as it did,” said Herriot. “That’s another awesome thing about this (meet). It’s one of the few places where D2 and D1guys can face off. Maybe produce fields that are better than state.”

Just like Monona Grove did at times.

Almost lost in the hype surrounding Regnier-Cumberbatch was a solo effort of truly mammoth proportions, as junior Bryce Ruland of Waterford went over 200 feet in the discus for astounding FOURTH time this season with a monumental personal best and meet record toss of 208-10.

In a sign that a new golden age of weightmen is upon Wisconsin, Ruland does not even lead the state honor roll in the discus with that throw. That honor goes to defending state shot and discus champion and fellow junior Ben Smith of Hortonville. Smith has had a number of throws in the 190s and one truly eye-opening effort of 209-11 at the Fox Valley Association Relays on May 2.

The unofficial state best remains the “lightning-in-a-bottle” skyscraper of 215-7 tossed by Sean Pruitt of Valders in 2005. That mark may hold this year but it is almost inevitable to me that the official 30-year WIAA record of 193-3 by Verona’s Luke Sullivan (which I saw way back when I was about half my current age and my dim eyes were much better) will finally go down this year.

And there is also a chance that Smith could also erase Steve Marcelle of Green Bay Preble’s 18-year shot put record of 67-6 as he has also went 68-10 1/2 in that event at the May 9 West De Pere Invite. It marked the THIRD time Smith has bested Marcelle’s record this season.

With those two around, it appears that the D1 boys’ weight circles may become truly crowded places at UW-La Crosse’s Memorial Stadium the weekend of June 2 and 3 as many people will look to see if legends will be shaken off their pedestals.

Let’s hope the weather gods are kind enough to give them that chance!

Smith was not at the Myrhum or else some earlier fireworks could have ensued between him and Ruland. That match-up is something Herriot and his staff will no doubt work on to make happen for next year’s meet.

Which he and his staff are already busy working on.

“We started yesterday,” Herriot laughed, referring to May 8, just two days after the completion of this most recent Myrhum. “I have this amazing staff who work hard and want this (the Myrhum) to be the best. If you don’t have people like that around, it just isn’t going to happen.”

For track junkies like myself in Wisconsin, we can easily say we’re all grateful for all their hard work.

UP NEXT: I have been assigned to cover the WIAA “Regional from Hell” at Homestead for Conley Newspapers, and I’ll discuss why it, and the comparatively very weak Wisconsin Lutheran sectional (which Homestead does not feed into) are bad for track’s competitive balance this year. It makes me wish the City Conference was truly strong again!