In retrospect, it’s probably not my proudest moment, but I think my execution of the ol’ drop-and-dash in 1992 speaks to my admittedly warped sense of commitment to one of Mansfield’s civic treasures — the Mehock Relays.
I know I’m not alone in that devotion. The Mehock celebrates its 83rd birthday Saturday and in that time, since Harry Mehock founded the area’s premier high school track and field showcase, there have been only three other meet directors.
The meet last year celebrated its 50th anniversary at Mehock Field. For meet referee Doug Castle, starter Al Ward and umpire Phil Horvath, it was also their 50th anniversary of volunteering on that track, at this meet.
Back when it was a two-day meet and lodging wasn’t as plentiful for schools traveling from out of state, residents were asked to open their homes to entire teams during their overnight stays. Many families housing athletes asked for the same school every year. A local firehouse bunked some boys, treating them to carbo-loaded spaghetti and some trips down the pole.
Doris and George Williams from Shelby couldn’t offer a pole, just hospitality. For more than 30 years.
So when the hospital released my wife and newborn daughter from the hospital 23 years ago, I thought I was just doing my civic duty when I pulled into the driveway and dropped them off before dashing off to the Relays. I believe I even left the motor running while hurrying them inside.
My wife has long since forgiven me, so you should too.
Why bring it up now?
I was asked to reflect on my 37 years of covering the Mehock Relays at a Kiwanis luncheon on Thursday. Preparing my address by poring over old clippings gave me a chance — if only through the printed word — to reconnect with some of the fascinating athletes who have made the Mehock the crown jewel of athletic events in Mansfield.
Believe me, as chairman of the News Journal All-Star Basketball Classic since its inception in 1979, it’s not easy for me to admit the Classic should play second fiddle to anything. But it’s true.
While the Classic can claim an NBA player (Jamie Feick), an Olympian (Nate Reinking) and an NFL quarterback (Charlie Frye) among its alums, I’ve lost track of all the Mehock stars who went on to play pro football. The Mehock also boasts seven Olympic gold medalists, including track legends Jesse Owens and Harrison Dilliard.
It would have been eight had former Mehock dash champion Ben Johnson not been stripped of Olympic glory for using steroids.
Johnson was part of one of the stranger stories in Mehock lore. In 1980, only my second Relays, the Canadian sprinter was aghast (to put it mildly) that his winning time in the 100-meter dash was 11.3.
Performance enhancing drugs would eventually cover him in shame, but performance deflating officiating nearly ruined his day in Mansfield.
Turns out officials forgot to move the starting blocks after the 110-meter high hurdles to the mark for the 100. Everybody in the finals ran an extra 10 meters.
Johnson, pre-steroids presumably, came back and won in 1981 in 10.2. That’s the same year Thomas Wilcher of Detroit Central set a Mehock record that still stands with his 13.6 clocking in the 110 high hurdles.
Wilcher’s name might sound familiar to even non-track fans. He’s the football coach at Detroit Cass Tech who, in February, made it known he didn’t appreciate the recruiting tactics of Urban Meyer in landing running back Mike Weber. They seem to have patched things up.
As track coach at Cass Tech, Wilcher used to rack up Mehock titles the way Meyer is starting to pile up national titles the Buckeyes.
Speaking of Buckeyes, two of the more notable runners in Mehock history went on to fame at Ohio State and fortune in the NFL. Ted Ginn Jr. won four events in back-to-back years (2003 and 2004) and Robert Smith, now an ESPN analyst, still holds the Mehock record in the 200 dash of 21.38, set in 1990.
That record sort of comes with an asterisk. It was one of five records set that year, but the meet was memorable for the record that wasn’t set. Chris Nelloms was DQed for false-starting in the 200 meter dash, ruining his bid to become the only four-time winner of an event in Mehock history.
Smith, who was named the top prep football player in the nation (for Euclid) the previous fall, was almost apologetic for winning a race that didn’t include Nelloms. My lead the next day was about how Dunbar won the team title with — and without — Nelloms.
There have been other strange storylines, but nothing that comes close to being as offbeat as that entire 1992 meet, my questionable paternal instincts aside.
In that meet, Canadian Sam Davis beat the triple jump record by more than two feet, but his mark was thrown out because he was wearing a watch. Told like everybody else to discard any jewelry, he took out his earring and took off his rings, but forgot the watch.
So what happens? The bling king adds more gold to his collection anyways. He wins the event, beating out his younger brother.
That was weird enough, but in that same meet, Hamilton Sir John McDonald — the name of a Canadian school, not some flamboyant sprinter — had to withdraw because it had two refugees on the squad who would have been deported had they stepped foot on U.S. soil.
Oh, and first-day leader Caldwell and its 20 points left town despite its two gold medal performances because it was committed to another meet the next day.
Oh, and Gary Horace Mann — again, the name of an Indiana school, not a shot-putter — failed to show up because it thought the meet was the following week.
Oh, and an unheralded runner got DQed for false-starting in a distance race. And he was in the slowest heat.
Oh, and Willie Hibbler of Cleveland East Tech won both hurdles races even though his team’s entry got lost in the mail. Some last-minute shuffling on the heat sheets were made to accommodate Hibbler.
“East Tech is so fast,” quipped Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer Dick Zunt, a fixture at the Mehock until his death a few years ago, “they beat their entry here.”
I’d like to say I’ve seen it all at the Mehock Relays, but Saturday will probably prove me wrong.