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History of the Beloit Relays

[from the 1975 Relays program]

The history of the Beloit College Relays reads more like a "Who's Who" of Midwestern track and field, and even of the nation.

The Relays were started in 1937 by Louis E. Means, who was athletic director at Beloit from 1936 until 1945. More than 10,000 athletes from more than 50 colleges and universities have competed in the Relays.

In the early 1960s, the meet was expanded to include high school events, and many boys' and girls' teams competed over the next ten years.

Upon being informed of the revival of the Relays, Louis Means provided some historical comment by letter.

Our first year with the Relays (1937) brought 175 athletes from 15 colleges in three states. The 1938 event attracted over 300 athletes from 20 colleges in 7 states, and 17 of the colleges scored points that year. During the next four Relays we had grown to attract some 500-600 athletes from over 30 colleges and 12 states. The stadium for each of those six years was always a sellout. We (faculty advisory committee) invited only liberal arts colleges of smaller size, had two special freshmen events, but did not allow freshmen to compete otherwise, held one special high school event, and always one very special event featuring a nationally known track athlete such as Chuck Fenske, Greg Rice, Ralph Halla, Elton Lindstrom, and others. Probably not known to others was the fact that the Beloit Relays in the last two years before the war stopped events had achieved national acclaim from the press, was annually covered by Chicago and Milwaukee papers in person. The last two years brought letters from track coaches at Northwestern, Wisconsin, Illinois, Notre Dame and Purdue... asking if they might send entrants. In all these cases we remained steadfast in our resolve to hold a meet designed for colleges similar to Beloit, and we respectfully declined to accept these entries.

 

The earlier Relays shows a dominance of Coe College of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, until 1942. Coe won the Relays in 1937, 1939, and 1940. They placed third in 1938 and second in 1941. Coe's first 440 yard relay team, in 1937, ran 42.7. This mark is the oldest standing record of the Relays. Coe's 880 yard relay team won four consecutive championships from 1937-1940.

Louis Means cleared up a discrepancy in the 1939 Relays records. Lindstrom of Whittier College was listed as the record holder of the hundred yard dash (9.6), but the list of individual champions listed Graf of Lawrence in 9.7. Mr. Means replied:

YES – I can clear up the quandary about the record of Eldon Lindstrom of Whittier College in our special 100 Yard Dash staged in 1939. This was a special event added to the earlier list of Beloit Relays events, and we awarded the winner a fine wristwatch along with the winner of the Beloit Daily News Special One Mile Run.

Lindstrom came from California especially for our Relays after the student body and citizens of Whittier, California raised enough cash to make the trip possible. We were delighted because this marked an ever widening of participating colleges from farther away areas.

That year I had selected Art Denney, athletic director at Lawrence College, to serve as Honorary Referee of the Relays...It so happened that Denny's star performer for Lawrence that year was Graf who had done the 100 in :09.9, :09.8, and :10 seconds during the season in other meets.

Lindstrom arrived on campus on Tuesday of the week of the Relays, and worked out with us. A humorous side of the story was that each day that week we conducted some of the events of our annual intramural outdoor meet at Strong Stadium. On Wednesday we had the 100 yard dash with several heats and finals. Lindstrom was watching...When the first heat of the 100 was run there was a furor. The winning time was announced as :09.1. Lindstrom came to me aghast. He said, "And to think I travelled 2600 miles to run a 100 yard dash where the college intramural meet first heat was won in :09.1." Of course I knew something was wrong. We went down to the finish and discovered...the mistake of setting the finish tape on the 90 yard marker.

Now for the story on Lindstrom's time and record. In the afternoon preliminaries Lindstrom won rather easily in excellent time under :10 seconds. Graf did also. The two had been seeded one-two. In the semi-finals Graf won his heat and Lindstrom jumped the gun twice – not used to the delayed starting gun. We had ourselves a dilemma. I went into a huddle with Art Denney. He did not want to let Lindstrom compete against Graf in the finals. ..We had featured Lindstrom in much of our advance publicity. Art agreed that since Whittier would not figure in the team point standings anyhow we would permit Lindstrom to run in the 7th or extra lane that night in the finals, that he would not count in the final scoring or placing; but would be eligible to win the feature and capture the wristwatch. The arrangement was announced to the pleased crown. The event was run on schedule, including Lindstrom, who ran the final heat in :09.6, one long stride ahead of the flying Graf of Lawrence who was clocked at :09.7 for his fastest 100 run ever.

SO – Lindstrom's record was allowed to count; Graf's first place and first place points awarded to Lawrence; Lindstrom was presented the special award, and everyone was happy...

The 1940 meet had Chuck Fenske of Wisconsin, the outstanding miler in the country at the time, trying for a world's record in the three/quarter mile run. He failed on a muddy track but still ran a very respectable 3:06.1.

Forty schools came to run in the 1941 Relays where Gregg Rice of Notre Dame, the world's record holder in the two mile, dueled it out with the Big Ten champion, Mel Tutt of Indiana, with Rice winning in the excellent time of 9:03.

Beloit won its first Relays in 1942. The war stopped the Relays until 1946. In 1949 Beloit won the first of four consecutive team crowns. Team standings were discontinued in 1958.

In the later 1940's, the Wheaton mile relay team stands out having won this event three years in a row (1946-1948). Bonyata of Grinnell was the outstanding individual winning the hundred from 1947-1949 (best time – 9.9).

"Gloomy Gus" is what they called Buc thinclad coach, Herb Hodges, in the 1950's as he directed his teams to some of the finest performances in Beloit track history. Before the start of the 1949 track season Hodges predicted that Beloit would not win a meet in any of the major relays. His boys showed him to be even grumpier than ever as they won 11 dual meets, the Coe Relays, Midwest Conference Championship, and their own Beloit Relays.

Some of Hodges' outstanding performers were: Ced Blazer, Jerry Donley, John Brooks, "King" Kovac and Ron Orndorff. Orndorff was the last Beloit winner of the open mile (4:33.9), and is the announcer in today's meet.

An interesting sidelight of the 1952 Relays was the competition between Beloit grad Jerry Donley and the "Wheaties Kid," the Rev. Bob Richards, in the pole vault. Richards won with a vault of 14 feet 6 1/2 inches.

Pensinger of Western Illinois won the high jump in a record 6' 6" in 1951. At that time he was ranked 19th in the world.

Terauds of DuBuque won four Relays titles in the javelin from 1958-1961 with a best throw of 197' 5 1/2" in 1959. He is the only individual with four Relays crowns in one event.

Jackson of Western Illinois won the hundred yard dash (with a personal best time of 10.1) three years in a row, 1951-1953.

In 1957, freshman Rick Chase of Beloit anchored the freshman sprint medley team to a 3:41.1 win. He was to do the same for the varsity sprint medley teams in 1958, 1959 and 1960, setting the record of 3:31.6 in 1959.

The 1959 and 1960 Relays have to be two of Beloit's finest hours on the track. Four hundred trackmen and 2,500 spectators watched as Beloit's 1959 distance medley team of Harvey Flodin, Bob Shaw, Rick Chase and Dave Peelle barely edged out Northern Illinois at the tape to set a record of 10:22.3 for perhaps the most exciting race in Relays history. The finish was so close it took several minutes for the officials to determine the winner. The sprint medley team of Flodin, Don Parvin, Dick Van Scotter, and Chase set a record of 3:31.6. In 1960, Don Fisher, Darryl Hessel, Van Scotter, and Flodin won the mile relay in the record time of 3:21.0. These same men also established a school record in the 880 yard relay with a time of 1:29.7. Additionally the 440 yard relay team of Flodin, Van Scotter, Fisher and Parvin set a school record of :43.2 winning the event. Within thirty minutes Beloit had established three school records and the only Relays record of the meet.

The distance medley relay was dominated by North Central College in the 60s. Their team won this event five years in a row (1966-1969) establishing the present record of 10:21.0 in 1966.

In field events, Budde of Carroll was to win the discus for three consecutive years (1961-1963) and was also to set the present javelin record of 212' 5 1/2" (1963). Despite Budde's outstanding performance, Viktor of North Central was to establish the discus record of 159' 11 1/2" in 1966. Keith Watkins of Wheaton was an outstanding participant in the Relays. He won the pole vault in 1963, 1964 and in 1965 established the record of 14' 1". He was also the winner of the high jump in 1964 and 1965 (best jump - 6' 4 1/2").

One of the most important events was the Silver Anniversary running of the Relays in 1964. This meet drew a top-flight field, including the best milers of the day, for a special invitational race. The following story on that historical mile was published May 3, 1964, in the Milwaukee Journal:

Beloit, Wis. - Dyrol Burleson of Eugene, Ore., running away from the field, won a special "quarter century" mile in the 25th Beloit Relays here Saturday in 4 minutes 1.5 seconds.

The former University of Oregon runner, who has run the mile in under four minutes six times might have made it seven in his first outdoor start of the season but for the facts that the track was slowed by four days of rain and that his opposition didn't push him.

Burleson took the lead at the half mile, pulled away steadily, and finished a good 50 yards ahead of runnerup Pat McNeal of Kansas State. McNeal was timed in 4:10.5; Coppley Vickers of the University of Tennessee in 4:22.1 and Bill Dotson of the University of Kansas in 4:22.1.

Burleson shattered the meet record of 4:13.7 set in 1951 by Gil Dodds of Ashland college.

Burleson's mile was the second fastest ever run in Wisconsin and the fastest outdoors. Only Jim Grelle's 4:01.4 in the 1962 indoor Journal Games was faster.

Keith Watson of Wheaton broke the meet record in the pole vault and won the high jump and was voted the most outstanding performer. He vaulted 13 feet 8 inches to break the mark of 13-6 3/4 he set last year and won the high jump with a leap of 6-1.

Since it was a special race, Dodds' record of 4:13.7 still stands as the relay's official mark for the mile.

From 1966-1972 three new events and records were established: Shuttle Hurdle Relay (record - Cornell; 59.6, 1967), Triple Jump (record - Frodesen, Lawrence, 46'4", 1969), and 3 Mile Run (record - Granchalek - Marquette, 14:57.1, 1972).

At this, the running of the 33rd Beloit Relays, the oldest record will be challenged as it has been every year since the start of the Relays. Coe College's :42.7 clocking in the Quarter Mile Relay was turned in the very first running of this meet. The Beloit Relays has truly been one of the outstanding small college track meets in the United States.

 

[from the 1976 Relays program]

1975 was a milestone year for Beloit College track and the Beloit Relays. It marked the renewal of the Relays after a two-year cessation of the historic event. It marked the renewal of the excitement of team scoring for the first time since 1957; and it marked Beloit's first top three team finish since 1954 in the Relays.

And, it was the year of one of the greatest individual performances in the history of this meet. Beloit's own Dave Grady, in winning three individual events, the long jump (21-10½), the high jump (6-4 1/8), and the triple jump (44-9½), and placing fourth in the 100-yard dash, single-handedly scored 34 of his team's total of 51. Never before in Relays history had an individual won more than two events, and Grady's total of 34 points far exceeded the personal output of any previous athlete.

Grady's performance, in fact, overshadowed another of the finest performances in Relays history, that of Dan Hildebrand who led his University of Chicago team to a second place finish ahead of Beloit. Hildebrand became the first athlete to ever win the grueling mile/three-mile double, and he did it with less than an hour's rest.

Hildebrand began his feat at 7:35 p.m., winning the Herb Hodges mile in a creditable time of 4:26.2 (13th best in Relays history) on a slow, muddy track. Then, at 8:30, Hildebrand returned to the damp cinders to turn in a record setting 14:48.9 three mile run, beating the three-year-old record of Marquette's Ed Granchalek by almost ten seconds.

However, the winning total of 67 points, turned in by Central College of Iowa, was in a way more significant than the remarkable showings of Grady and Hildebrand because Iowa won the title through team effort. Central won only two events – Bob Howard's shot put victory and the difficult shuttle hurdle relay, while runner-up Chicago won four events and Beloit three. But Central placed in 10 of the meets 17 events. It is that kind of team balance that wins titles, and the kind of balance which underscores last year's decision to renew ream scoring.

Central's victory was the seventh by an Iowa school since the Relays were begun in 1937 by Louis Means, who was athletic director at Beloit for ten years, starting in 1936. Besides Central, other Iowa teams to take the Relays crown were Coe (three times), Grinnell (twice), and Iowa Teachers. Wisconsin teams have won the Relays seven times also. Beloit has won five Relays while Lawrence and UW-Milwaukee have each won once. Three Illinois crowns are shared by Wheaton (twice) and Northern Illinois.