There's more than just a name behind track meets
Who are those guys?
Nearly every weekend track athletes and their parents might wonder whose name heads the cover of the program they're holding. In nearly every occasion these folks are not household names, just normal people with passion.
Aside from a few meets that truly are memorials, such as Waubonsie Valley's Red Ribbon Classic or Glenbard North's indoor Bud Swanson Invitational, track generally acknowledges those still among us. As former Lisle coach and invitational inspiration Carlin Nalley likes to say, "It's not a memorial — yet."
Here we'll try to provide at least a nifty note on some of these people.
Nalley is an Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee. In 1967 as a fundraiser for the Lisle Booster Club, he started what became Illinois' largest outdoor track meet outside the state series. Nalley didn't like it in 1987 when the boosters wanted to name it for him, and he still calls it the "Lisle Invitational." T-shirts printed for the event feature a slogan of his — "Pray for sunshine."
The shirt has its own traditions. One is that Lisle athletes wear the Nalley shirt preceding but not on the day of the meet. Last year J.D. Webb wore one and caught heck for it until he explained it was his father's from 23 years before.
"Anyone who has kept a T-shirt that long deserves to have his son wear it in competition, at least once," said Nalley's successor at Lisle, Ken Jakalski.
Wheaton Warrenville South holds a meet Friday named for Red Grange. Perhaps you've heard of him. In the early 1920s the "Wheaton Ice Man" was a seven-time all-stater and a state champion in high jump, long jump and two sprints. He also played some football.
Grange isn't the only Illini standout to be feted. A meet saluting former 30-year Hinsdale South coach Mike Yavorski will be held April 26. An Alton High School inaugural Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, Yavorski was a 10-time Big Ten track medalist who ran on a national champion 400 relay. A three-sport Division I athlete when that still happened, he's in Illinois' track hall of fame and also owns the Memorial Stadium record for longest touchdown reception, 90 yards.
Over three straight weekends starting April 13, Glenbard West holds meets honoring past coaches — Hank Haake, Sue Pariseau and Jim Arnold. Current Hilltoppers girls coach Kelly Haas ran for Pariseau, loved Haake as a history teacher, and to this day welcomes Arnold to her practices.
Of Pariseau, among the select female ITCCCA Hall of Fame members, Haas said: "She built both (girls track and cross country) programs at West and really became a champion for girls sports at a time when there weren't even any sports for girls. Sue will often speak of the fact that the only athletic chance she had as a high schooler was in cheerleading ... ."
Another pioneer was Carol Koszola, whose Classic will be held at Lake Park for a 26th year on Saturday. An assistant athletic director and dean of students at Lake Park for more than 30 years, Koszola was a badminton scorer for the IHSA and an advocate for women's sports pre-Title IX.
"She always comes and works the meet," said Lancers athletic director Pete Schauer. He added Koszola gets a new T-shirt each year "to show her family."
Like Pariseau and Koszola, Gus Scott likewise enjoyed boosting "underdogs" — boys who were not state-caliber but trained as hard as those who were.
Naperville North's coed Gus Scott Invitational, held last Friday, annually salutes a man who started coaching at Wheaton College in 1957. He then joined Naperville Community High, predating Naperville North, and retired as Naperville North's cross country coach in 1994.
Interestingly, the DuPage Valley Conference bestows the winner of its boys 1,600-meter race with the Gil Dodds Trophy. Known as the Flying Parson, Dodds studied at Wheaton College and in the mid-1940s held both the American and world records in the mile. He'd reference scripture while signing autographs. Once, after told the distance of a race he was in would be doubled, he reportedly cited Matthew 5:43: "Whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two."
Last weekend the two Downers Grove high schools held meets named after longtime teachers who contribute to their programs more than a decade past their retirement, Bruce Ritter and "Bud" Mohns.
Friday Downers North ran the annual Ritter Invite girls meet, saluting the man who started the girls cross country program in 1976 and led state titles in 1980 and 1985. In his last year as a head coach in 2001, after 33 years as a math teacher, the Trojan Invite took his name.
Last Saturday Bud Mohns was at Downers North, coaching Downers Grove South's shot put and discus throwers while his school, undergoing field restoration, hosted the boys meet bearing his name. During a 28-year career as biology teacher and coach Mohns was the Mustangs' man; he helped design (and redesign) the school's training room and the drainage system underneath the outdoor fields. The school's first track coach in 1965, in 1970 as football coach he won the school's first conference title in the old Des Plaines Valley League.
Downers South hosts two great boys meets, with the Bob Cohoon Invitational on Friday. An All-America football player in college, Cohoon was head or assistant coach in track the entirety of his 29 years at Downers South.
On April 27 Glenbard North hosts a girls meet, the Weber Invitational, named for the school's former longtime principal, Burt Weber. The Panthers' football field is also named after him, a man who was often found eating lunch in the cafeteria right with the teachers.
Going back to the indoor season, Glenbard North also hosts a true memorial, a girls meet for the late "Bud" Swanson. The ITCCCA hall of famer earned a cross country title in 1994 and directed 39 all-state distance runners. He retired in November 2002 after coaching 18 years. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with cancer and died in April 2003.
Another memorial, which highlights wise decisions rather than an individual, is Waubonsie Valley's April 27 Red Ribbon Classic boys meet. The ball first started rolling when Waubonsie Valley math teacher and coach Duane Butts and former boys track coach Steve Luke, now at Danville, founded the school's groundbreaking Athletes Against Dangerous Decisions in the wake of their friend Jeff Still's death at the hand of a drunken driver.
When Waubonsie students Allison Matzdorf, Jennifer Roberts, Jenni Anderson and, separately, Michelle Wright also were killed in alcohol-related accidents, with the support of Wendy's International, Luke and distance coach Dave Severance re-branded the Terasys Classic. The Red Ribbon, "The Meet with a Message," is in their honor.
"I believe this meet and its message still hold value in today's world," Luke wrote in an email, "and am very proud of the history of the meet as well as (coach Kevin Rafferty's) dedication in keeping the meet alive."
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1
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