Up until the late 1970’s, the state of Kansas was a track and field juggernaut. A mythical team of boys featuring the best of Kansas from the 60’s and 70’s would have held its own against the other 49 states. California, Texas and New York would have been tough to beat in a mythical track and field showdown, but Kansas would have been incredibly competitive thanks in large part to the prowess of Jim Ryun, assuming he would double, 400 IH freak Bob Bornkessel, the outstanding triple jumper Vince Parrette and throwers like Bob Obee and Clint Johnson.But back to Mason’s original query about the distance legacy of Kansas preps. Per capita, I would say that Kansas was a distance power nationally up until the late 1970’s. A large part of that lies at the feet of Jim Ryun. But the list doesn’t end there. By 1980 Kansas had 5 sub 4:10 milers.
|A string of Shawnee Missouri South runners, a school that was a distance powerhouse in the 1970's|
But compare to Kansas to say Oregon and the numbers look a little better. Oregon and Kansas both had 5 milers under 4:10 by 1980, but Oregon's population was larger so the nod goes to the Sunflower State. But in the years since Oregon has added four more runners to that list while Kansas hasn't had one boy break 4:10.
There are undoubtedly some very good high school coaches in Kansas. Van Rose of Shawnee Mission Northwest is great and belongs in the company of Timmons, Edmiston and Schmidt. But even Van will admit to only training his kids hard enough to win state championships. Things like Footlocker and NXN are an afterthought in Van’s book and that’s not meant as a criticism.I think two things are behind the lack of great times. My guess is some of the best potential milers end up playing soccer. The rise of soccer has hurt track and field, especially in a small state like Kansas. The other is the old “Runner’s World” syndrome that I think inhabits the thought processes of the majority of high school coaches. They don’t want to burn the kids out. Thus high mileage of 70 or 80 miles a week is off the table.
I look at the three great Lawrence High distance runners of the last three decades, David Johnston, Chris Williams and Roy Wedge, all state champions, none ascribed to high mileage. I doubt that either topped 70 miles a week if that during their high school careers. They chose to run quality over quantity and unless you have the god given speed of a Sebastian Coe than school records like that of Kent McDonald’s will stand for another 20 years. And yes, Kent had a hand in coaching both Williams and Wedge. And yes, it pains him that his record from 1971 is still standing.