SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Move over, basketball. You’re not the only game in town. Track and field is running right behind basketball when it comes to being successful.

I have a hunch that Tabor College track coach Dave Kroeker and Hillsboro High School track coach Dennis Boldt love every minute of it.

TC and HHS had remarkable, outstanding, phenomenal track and field seasons this spring. The high school boys won the state title in Class 3A, and the girls, dominated by freshmen, finished second at state.

Tabor’s men’s and women’s track and field teams both finished second in the KCAC track meet, and a number of athletes qualified for nationals.

Wow!

To be fair, these programs aren’t fly-by-night wonders. But by virtue of track schedules and spring weather, they often fly under the radar.

Basketball, with numerous home games, is relatively easy to follow. There aren’t many home track meets though, and spring weather in Kansas is frequently cold, windy, wet or all of the above-in other words, not conducive to the athletes or fans.

The biggest event of the year for high school track athletes-the state track meet-occurs when school is out.

Success in track and field, like success in all sports, involves good athletes, as well as coaches who motivate them to perform to the best of their ability.

The high school track program, in particular, has been above average for quite awhile.

I’m sure coaches Kroeker and Boldt would quickly acknowledge the help of their assistant coaches, but the buck stops with the head coach. They are the ones who have encouraged, inspired, and perhaps cajoled their student athletes to excellence. They deserve credit for maintaining and growing strong programs.

I don’t know if coaching track is harder or easier than other sports, but it is surely different. Consider the diversity of events-shot put, javelin, discus, pole vault, long jump, high jump, 100-meter dash, long-distance races and relays.

Coaching such an array of events has to be challenging, which is why a smart head coach finds knowledgeable assistants.

Strong athletic programs complement each other because the best athletes in small colleges and high schools often perform in multiple sports. That’s the beauty of Tabor College and HHS-specialization in only one sport is not required.

Congratulations to all the athletes and coaches on another outstanding season. Your effort and accomplishments make us proud!

* * *

With HHS freshmen JuliAnne Chisholm and Hannah Marsh winning gold medals in the state track meet, it’s hard not to like the future of girls’ track. More gold medals may follow in coming years, but there’s no guarantee. The expectations will be greater and may be a bit unrealistic.

Here’s hoping that Marsh and Chisholm experience continued success.

Regardless of what happens in the future, they had an amazing year.

* * *

It’s possible that Hillsboro’s all-time best track and field athlete is unknown to most locals. Former Hillsboro resident “Smokey” Joe Mendel tied the world record for the 100-yard dash in 9.5 seconds in 1931, long before all-weather tracks and top-notch equipment.

Although he lived and attended grade school in Hillsboro for a few years, his remarkable athletic exploits during high school took place in Onida, S.D.

His performance at the South Dakota state track meet in 1926 stands as one of the most remarkable achievements in South Dakota sporting history. He won the broad jump with a leap of 22 feet, 91/2 inches, a record-setting jump that stood until 1976.

He won the 100-yard dash in 10.0 and the 220-yard dash in 22.1, before winning the 440 in 51.2. He had won the state track meet-all schools large and small competed for the title-for Onida High School, scoring all of his team’s 20 points.

Fifty-five years after the fact, veteran sports reporter John Egan of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader calls it “an amazing performance… the greatest single track day in South Dakota history.”

If you wonder how I know so much about “Smokey” Joe Mendel, it’s simple. He was Uncle Joe to me. He died in 1997 at the age of 91.

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