Kansas had five classes back then. The prior spring distance runners from small classes had dominated the scene. Chris Perez from Lakin, Keith Palmer from Lucas, and Bob Christenson were amazing studs from very small Class 1A and 2A schools. This spring it seemed 3A was loaded with Steve Shaad, Terry Glenn, Jeff Rosenow, and Jerry Peffly. Bob Christenson was back for his senior year as well.
I ran mainly against Class 5A runners. Besides Hamilton I raced Stan Vernon and Tim Robinson from Topeka High, Jim Dillion and Eric Lathrop from Shawnee Mission South, Craig Powell and Mike Muller from Shawnee Mission Northwest (the genesis of Van Rose's dynasty), and an up and coming sophomore Tim Davis from Shawnee Mission West.
I switched things up going into the season. I was putting in long miles, runs of 8 to 15 miles everyday, mostly on my own. I would usually end up back at school to take part in the last part of the sprinters workout. I was about as fit as I had ever been. It showed at a time trial in late March. I was running a two mile time trial with a group of guys who were running a mile. I led through the mile at 4:45. It felt pretty good but I slacked off over the last mile as there was nobody around and ran 10 flat.
We opened with an indoor meet at Pittsburg State. The track was hard tartan, ten laps to a mile. Running on it was like being a hamster on a treadmill. I took it out hard and never looked back. I ran 10:01 and probably won by seven or eight seconds. I thought I was pretty hot stuff until I doubled back in the 880 and ran a stunning 2:08.
The following weekend was state indoor. The only option was the mile and we had to run a qualifying round to get into the finals. Each heat had 12 runners and the top six from each heat advanced. The problem was that Ted Crank of Hutchinson somehow missed his heat, the first one, and was allowed into our heat. I ran like crap and came in seventh and my coach protested and I was advanced.
Running back to back days indoors is no treat. The dry air pretty much sucked the life out of me. Then as we were warming up I started talking to Jerry Peffly and we were both scared shitless. It was funny because Jerry went out and blasted everyone in the 3A race and won going away. I went out and got DFL (that's dead fucking last for the inital impaired) in a stunning 4:36. Part of it was nerves and part of it was the difficulty of handling the dry indoor air of Ahearn Fieldhouse.
The next three meets were less than stellar. We ran a dual with Washington and I got second in the mile to a pretty good runner, Tyrell Barnett and took the two mile easily. I got third in the two mile at Pittsburg State and third in the mile running really poor times. The Kansas Relays had tightened up the qualifying for the two mile so I went into a triangle meet at Shawnee Mission South believing I had to run 9:45. It was a typical windy spring day in Kansas and I struggled to get second behind Jim Dillion and ran 10:14.
The Kansas Relays was even worse. I ran the mile in the distance medley relay and got my ass handed to me clocking a 4:39. We were never really in it but my effort didn't help. I had gotten into the two mile and that was something else. I was in a brand new pair of Adidas Titans, shoes specifically made for tartan tracks. Barry Schur a K.U. high jumper had given them too me. I was in lane one, the front row. They stuck Terry Glenn right behind me. Now I'm thinking, oh shit, Glenn is going to be crawling up my ass! I would have rather been behind him so I could have sat on him. The gun goes off and I took off, the skies opened up on the back stretch and it began pouring as I pulled the field through a 61. It was raining harder than hell and the bulk of the field started filing by me on the second lap. I think I hit the mile in 4:52. Sometime after the mile the sun comes out and it's like someone had opened the sauna. I finished in 10th out of 12 runners hitting the tape in 9:59. I was really pissed off at myself for letting my nerves get the better of me.
We went to Topeka the following week where again I doubled the mile and two mile. I got third in the mile when I should have won it. I remember with 700 to go feeling Tim Robinson's hand go down my back as he fell when he got tangled up with a runner from Washburn Rural. Somehow Tim got up and sprinted like mad and went by the two of us. The other memory is stepping off the awards stand after the mile and blowing chow all over the middle of the football field. I got third in the two mile running yet another 9:59.
The league meet was at Shawnee Mission North, my favorite track. I convinced the coaches to let me just run the two mile. They had 21 runners lined up. I spent the first lap and a half running in lane three with Stan Vernon and Clark Hamilton. We went through the mile in 4:48 and going down the backstretch Stan looked and Clark and said, let's go. I hesitated because I thought we were going plenty fast and that was a mistake. Stan and Clark were gone as were another five runners. I spent the next three laps trying to track down the break away. I could only catch two of them, one was Tim Robinson. One of the great things about that race is I can remember Van Rose, the coach from Northwest, yelling for me. It really kept me going. I got fifth running 9:41.1.
I was loaded for bear the following Monday at the Lawrence Night Relays. I had a simple plan, run 67 seconds for each of the first three laps then run like hell. It almost worked. I hit 1320 in 3:22 and at 330 yards to go I let loose with a big kick charging by Stan Vernon and Tim Robinson. Unfortunately as I came around the last curve I flashed back on a moment when I was in the same position on the same track in a 9th grade 880 when I had rigged up and finished second. Sure enough I started to rig and Stan and Tim flew by me. I ran 4:27.8. I'm convinced if I had stayed focused I could have run 4:25 like Stan and Tim but I'll never know.
Regionals were at Shawnee Mission Northwest and the coaches deemed that I should double. Only three would go in the mile but there were four of us good enough to move onto state. Shawnee Mission South had Curtis Martin and Eric Lathrop while Tim Davis was running for West. We basically jogged until we got to 300 yards to go. Lathrop and Davis took off with Martin in hot pursuit. I was a little slow to get into gear but coming off the final turn I was making up ground quickly on Martin. I caught him with less than 100 to go and basically ran the final 50 yards looking back at him. I took third and qualified. I felt bad for Curtis because we had become friends over the last season.
I lost my lunch again after the awards. The cheerleaders were completely grossed out. About 90 minutes later it was time for the two mile and I was running well within myself. But shortly after a mile bathroom problems hit. I felt like I had to crap my pants. I basically ran pinched legged over the last three laps unable to respond to a move by the lead pack fearing my bowels would let loose. I ended up fourth missing out at a chance at the two mile at state, the race I really wanted to run.
The week before state was horrible. The temperatures soared into the upper 80's so what little work I did seemed like a waste of time. The day of the race it was unbelieveably hot. Warming up in the sun sapped my strength so I jogged under the grandstands. 12 of us lined up for the finals. The track was scorching hot and we jogged the first two laps until Clark Hamilton decided enough was enough and took off stringing out the field. I was caught with my head up my ass when the move came and was in last place. I struggled to catch to fading runners over the last lap and finished 10th in 4:36. I remember hitting the finish line and ripping off my spikes because my feet were on fire. I stepped off the searing track onto an even hotter artificial football field and could swear I had burned my feet.
Despite the poor performance I knew that I could run faster and better. A summer of miles lay ahead and promised myself that I would do the work needed to compete with Hamilton and the rest.
Above is a late addition to this blog courtesy of Shawnee Mission North, Pittsburg State and Santa Monica Track Club great Jim Scott. The pictures are from the 1972 state meet. The first picture shows North's Clark Hamilton leading and I believe it's just as he started his surge. To Clark's right is Ted Crank, a great runner from Hutchinson who ended up at Kansas. Outside of Ted in the yellow and black is the great Stan Vernon from Topeka High. Behind Clark is Tim Davis from Shawnee Mission West who went onto become one of the fastest milers in Kansas high school history a couple of years later. He ended up at K-State. Next to Tim is Kent Adrian from Wichita Southeast. Off Kent's right elbow is the late Eric Lathrop from Shawnee Mission South. He ended up going to Houston and had a decent college career. You have to look hard behind Tim Davis and to the right of the Wichita East runner is yours truly. I had quite the head of hair then. I clearly remember this moment in the race because all hell was breaking loose and I was gassed.
The next picture is Clark Hamilton breaking the tape for the win. Clark went to college at Missouri.
The final snap shot shows as follows. In the back row is Jim Scott standing Kent Neubert, a very good middle distance runner from North. The front row features Clark Hamilton and two great runners from Bonner Springs. Steve Shaad, a stud in the mile and two mile who had a very good career at Wichita State and Mark Denney, an outstanding high school half miler.