High School Track…the Best and Worst of Times
Like many of you fellows who attended the little high schools in our county before consolidation, I participated in every sport. There were only three…baseball, basketball, and track. Our school started up cross country during my senior year. I had no interest in it, but my basketball coach made all of the players run cross country to get in shape. My favorite sports were baseball and basketball, which were the most popular sports in the county. I participated in track during the spring, but I had no interest in running…just the long jump and pole vault.
During my freshman year, Emerson Mutterspaugh was my basketball and track coach. No field events for me. All freshmen had to run the mile. The mile run was boring, and when I finished near the last…also embarrassing. But I stuck with it…until the county meet at Wabash College. I did not want to finish last in front of a large crowd, so I came up with a plan. I rode in Mr. Mutterspaugh’s car to the meet, and when we got out, I purposely left my track shoes in the car. I watched the events take place, and when it was almost time to run the mile, I informed Emerson that I had left my track shoes in his car. Well, I took my time…and just as I reached the car, the gun went off to start the race…great timing on my part…got out of that one!
The next year I had matured enough physically to not only be able to start on the varsity basketball team, but also participate in the pole vault and long jump. However, all track members had to run each afternoon to get in shape…starting at the school, through town to Empire Gas (now the Mini-Mart), east around St. Rd. 47, and back past Greenlawn cemetery to the school…a total of about three miles. Not fun. A classmate of mine, who only participated in the shot put, came up with a great idea. He jogged to Empire Gas, where a fellow student picked him up in his car…and drove him to the cemetery, where he would rest (and maybe smoke a couple of cigarettes) until the other track team members made it around. He then joined back up and finished the run…saving himself almost two miles of running!
I didn’t win very many ribbons that sophomore year, but I did start placing in the pole vault and long jump during my junior year. Our new coach, Galen Smith, also placed me in the mile relay, in which each of the four boys ran 440 yards (a quarter mile). In my first race, I was designated as the fourth runner to carry the baton. We were at Ladoga, and those Canners always seemed to excel in track. My three teammates, however, had built a great lead after the first three laps around the track. When they handed me the baton, I took off like a bolt of lightning, hoping the Ladoga boy could not catch me….Wrong! About halfway around the cinder track, I hit “the wall.” I felt like I was running in slow motion, and the Ladoga boy passed me in a breeze to win that event.
During my senior year, I was able to win the pole vault competition at most meets, and in addition, often placed first in the long jump. However, at the county meet, I had to compete against Phil Myers of Waveland in the long jump and Dale Conrad of New Market in the pole vault…both of whom had bested me during the regular season. The coach also had me run the 220-yard dash, in which I finished a dismal sixth. Each boy was given four attempts in the long jump. I was determined to do my best, but I “scratched” (toe went over the take-off board) all four tries! No placing…no ribbon.
The pole vault was my last chance, and the event started with the crossbar at nine feet. Each boy gave it his best, but by the time the crossbar reached 10 1/2-feet, there were only two vaulters left…Conrad and me. The sky became cloudy and a misty rain covered the track field. Dale Conrad’s hands slipped on all three of his attempts. After missing my first two attempts, I drenched my hands in pine tar, held on tight, and cleared the crossbar…the new county pole vault champion! Poor Dale Conrad shook his head in disbelief.
My track and field days were over. After graduating, I married my wife two days after I turned 18, started college at Purdue, and worked full-time to pay my tuition and living expenses. I also started smoking…big mistake! As a college student and then as a teacher, I smoked perhaps 3 or 4 cigarettes a day, but later on, when I was a deputy sheriff, I got up to two packs a day…and then after being elected Sheriff in 1994…three packs a day. By the time I left the
Sheriff’s Department, my health was not good. I gave up smoking “cold turkey,” and started walking every day. The next year I started jogging a mile a day….and the next year…around our block…five miles each morning. A cross country runner at last! That is…until my knees started aching. Now I am back to walking each day. But they do have pole vaulting competition for those 65 and older…maybe some day for me…I am 73 years old and just crazy enough to try it!
John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.