Photo by Diane Cox
Roxana’s Jordan Hawkins throws the shot put in the Madison County Meet Green Division Monday at EA-WR’s Orv Yocum Track inside Memorial Stadium. Hawkins won the shot and the Shells won the boys’ division.
There’s always history in the making at the Madison County track meets. Little wonder. The event, now a two-day one, has been around for more than a century and remains stable despite a number of changes.
Loyd Grafford, a 1962 East Alton-Wood River High graduate, serves as the unofficial county meet historian. Grafford has been involved in the meet for years, so he has a strong knowledge of its track record, so to speak.
“It started in 1903 and went through the three or more attempts to get a meet started and keep it going,” he said.
The county competition had its share of quirks, including some unusual formats.
“Some of them had two parts — academic and athletic — and they were held on the same school day,” Grafford said. “The academics were held in the morning and the track part of it went in the afternoon.”
He added, “A few of the early meet groups were nasty — they had some arguments and fights. There was even a case taken to court. Some weird things happened.”
Now, it’s all decided on the MadCo tracks. Earlier this week, athletes showed their skills at East Alton-Wood River and Collinsville in the two-class competition.
LaJarvia Brown of Alton, along with Edwardsville’s A.J. Epenesa and Wes Schoenthal, emerged as the record-setters in Tuesday’s big-schools battle at Collinsville. Brown established an all-time county best in the triple jump by going 40 feet, 2 inches. She ran 44.89 seconds in the 300-meter low hurdles, also a county best. Epenesa threw the discus 180-11 to smash a MadCo mark that stood for 45 years.
Schoenthal’s time of 1:55.79 in the 800-meters made its way into the record book.
The guys’ oldest record dates to 1968 when Avery Wallace’s soared 24-7.25 in the long jump. Oscar Wallace had jumped 24-6.5 for a county best, then Avery, next in line, followed it with a better one. Oscar still owns the IHSA finals record of 24-6.25 in 1969.
Just last year, thrower Martinus Mitchell of Collinsville busted a 50-year-old record in the shot. He flung it 59-11 to eclipse Paul Economides’ mark of 58-3 for Alton in 1963. Mitchell went on to win the Class 3A state title by heaving the shot 61-0.75 at O’Brien Stadium on the EIU campus.
Thus, success at the county meet can lead to bigger and better things.
“It’s an important meet at a key time of the season,” Alton girls’ coach Terry Mitchell said. “We try to judge it as the second step toward the state meet. Our invitational is first, followed by the county meet, the conference one and the sectional.”
For many, it’s a way to begin tracking the stretch run of the season. The two three-class state meets unfold next month at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
The advent of girls’ competition in 1978 added a nice touch to the meet. Two years ago, the MadCo meet returned to a Red Division for large schools and a Green Division for the smaller ones. From 1997-2012, there weren’t red and green class distinctions.
It’s still two-class participation, but the small-school boys and girls compete one night and the large-school boys and girls are paired together the second night.
Highland, with 979 students, is the smallest of the six schools cast in the large team division and Civic Memorial, with 745 students, is the largest school in the seven small-team class. Not all of the small schools field full teams, including newcomer Father McGivney of Maryville.
So unlike its previous shifting sands, the country track meet appears to be flowing naturally these days.
If you want proof, ask the Roxana High boys’ team. The Shells, champs of the Green Division title at EA-WR’s Memorial Stadium on Monday, reigned at MadCo for the first time since 1975.
Edwardsville’s girls may want to claim county ownership. The Tigers’ Red Division title Tuesday was their 15th in succession, a record itself. Alton holds the guys’ record with 16 consecutive team championships from 1957-72.
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