By the time you read this, barring something unforeseen, I will have relived one of my cherished childhood memories.
It is Thursday, and my father and I plan to be at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus on Friday to watch Hillsboro’s Austin Goolsby and several other Highland County athletes perform at the Ohio High School Athletic Association State Track and Field Championships.
From about as early as I can remember and up until my later teens, my father took my siblings and I, and some years many others, to the state track meet in Columbus. We missed a few trips during my college years, but shortly thereafter when I became a sports writer we started going again, and we have gone back off and on in the years since.
We last went in 2013 to watch Hillsboro’s Jarrod Hart finish as a state runner-up in the 800 meters. We especially liked watching Jarrod because my father and I both ran the 880-yard dash – the equivalent of today’s 800 meters – when we were in high school. I was decent, but my father was one of the top runners in the state.
He ran in the state meet in 1954 and 1956. He was sick in 1955 and did not get to run in the regional to qualify for the state his junior year. As a 15-year-old sophomore in 1954 (he did not turn 16 until November) he ran a 50.0 second opening quarter mile in the 880 that would have easily won the 440 at the state meet that year. He was still leading with about 200 yards to go, but had gone out too fast, ran out of gas, and finished last.
In 1956, he ran both the 100-yard dash and 880 at the state meet. He finished fifth in one and sixth in the other, and again likely would have easily won the 440, but he liked the 100 and 880. If things were like they are today with three school size classifications – Division I, Division II and Division III – he almost assuredly would have been state champion in both races. But there were only two classifications back then – A and B – and he had to run against all the state’s biggest schools. Because of his unusual combination though, he was named All-Ohio.
I suppose it was his experiences there that led him to taking us back to the state meet each year, possibly hoping that one of his kids would share his affection for track and field.
I can remember some years, actually more than some, when Dad would break into a jog as we crossed the Olentangy River and headed toward Ohio Stadium. It could have been because we were running late, but I always preferred to think it was echos from the past tugging at my dad’s heart, and that he just could not resist breaking into a jog.
Others years, when Dad would take my brother and I and some friends to the state meet, I remember asking him to drop us off a few blocks from home so we could race to our house. I guess maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I remember lots of things from the state track meet. Before every race when we were young, one of my brothers and I, and later on friends and relatives, would look at the program and runners entered in each approaching race and pick who we thought would win. I remember being really young and meeting the late, great Woody Hayes at the state track meet, and walking past him another time. I remember runners passing out from exhaustion, and one in particular weaving all over the place during the two-mile run while officials tried to coax him off the track.
I remember Hillsboro’s Jim Buck running the 880 there in the mid 1970s, breaking the state record as a junior but finishing third, then coming back to win it all and set his own state record the next year. I remember taking photos of Monique Smith when she was a surprise state champion in a throwing event in 1996.
I remember the Dayton Roth teams in their purple and white uniforms and a skull and crossbones-like symbol on their chest, all the little blond-headed girls from Minster competing for the state title year after, and the 4 X 440 (or 4 X 400, if you prefer) – which is my favorite race and the last of every meet – and Cleveland Glenville in their red and black uniforms having a top team in the Division I race year after year.
There are many more things I remember about the state track meet. Mostly though, I remember time spent with my father.
This year we will be watching Goolsby try to become Hillsboro’s first two-time state champion. He’s a pole vaulter and it’s a tricky event. But, I believe it’s time for my father and me to witness a little history once more.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.