by Jim Riggs
June 2, 1984
Jayhawks on the Run (Without a Track)
At the first team meeting last fall, Graham asked who could compete in what events and he ended up without anyone for the discus, shot put, hammer, and javelin, long jump, high jump, triple jump or 10,000- meter run. The lack of athletics didn’t bother Graham because his main concern was not winning, but just getting the program going.
“From a coaching standpoint, I was more laid back than I normally would be for a junior college program,” he said. “I just wanted to get it off the ground.”
The program definitely got off the ground because the Jayhawks’ mile relay team of Mike Zabrodsky, George Kindel, Charlie Rice, Dan Powers, and alternate Chris Pingitore qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship in San Angelo, Texas by finishing first in the Region 3 meet. Rice also won the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the regionals to qualify for national recognition.
JCC’s 1600-meter women’s relay team of Vicki Anderson, Sue Meise, Allison Keppel, and Verity Gleason finished second at the regionals or it would have made the trip to Texas. And there could have been someone else.
“Our pole vaulter (Todd Edborg) just missed going (to the nationals),” Graham said. “He was over twelve-six (the height to win) and hit the bar coming down.”
That’s not bad considering Edborg never had a pole vault pit for local practice, so he usually went to Fredonia State to work out on his own.
Teammate Rice knew what Edborg’s situation was like. He could only practice on high school hurdles which are 39 inches high. Yet he qualified for the nationals by clearing 42-inch college hurdles. But clearing hurdles had not been a regular thing for Rice all season.
“When he ran the regionals, it was only his second time running hurdles,” Graham said. Rice spent most of his hurdle practice time simply running.
And most of the practice time was self-disciplined which was the same for all the Jayhawks. “They did a tremendous amount on their own,” Graham said. He didn’t have an assistant coach and because of a full-time job in addition to other duties, his team members were left to often work out on their own.
The team began running at the JCC gym in the late afternoon, but that raised complaints from recreational runners and joggers who wanted to use the track. So Graham decided to have his team practice at 6 a.m. when the track would be free and despite the early hour, there were no complaints.
When the weather broke for outdoor running, the team would use the track at Washington School. But the lack of a “home” track didn’t bother Graham because he knew Jamestown had something that was more important – hills.
“I said, ‘Okay, we don’t have a track, so let’s run the hills,’” Graham said. After chugging up some of Jamestown’s inclines, running on a flat track was a relief.
But the Jayhawks never ran on a track in Jamestown in a competitive meet. That was because there was no all-weather track available. The closest one was at Fredonia State where JCC scheduled a “home” meet, but is was canceled because of inclement weather.
Most colleges use an all-weather track and they consider it a waste to run on a cinder track. For example, Graham explained that in the 400 meter, a runner may run 3 ½-4 seconds slower on cinders, so coaches figure there is no use for running on cinders.
Most of the top track teams in Region 3 don’t have all-weather tracks. The cost of $150,000 – 200,000 makes them a bit expensive for a junior college, but many of those schools are in cities which also have four-year schools with all-weather track that are available for practice. JCC’s closest track involves a 60-mile round trip.
In addition to the JCC “home” meet being canceled another road meet was scratched which cost the Jayhawks another opportunity for competition. “We ran only five meets,” Graham said. “In this part of the country a junior college team that runs ten meets will be ready for regional competition.”
But JCC was ready with half that amount and almost half a team. The Jayhawks finished sixth in the Region 3 meet out of 13 teams and the other 12 had established track programs. Graham points out that his team was only 3 ½ points out of third place. And perhaps those points would have been produced if there were Jayhawks competing in events JCC could not enter because of lack of participants.
After his mile–relay team, including his hurdler, won the regionals, some of the Region 3 coaches passed along pessimism instead of congratulations. “Other coaches said, ‘You’re going to get embarrassed (at the nationals’),” Graham said, “But I didn’t look at it that way.”
The most important thing for his team members would be competing at the national level. Just getting there is an accomplishment, and it was a reward for their hard work all season.
Graham knew his team members would not stand a chance against the teams from the Sun Belt who practice all year outside and on the fine facilities. But that didn’t bother him. “Nobody gives a damn who finishes last,” he said and this is where JCC finished. But he was just happy to let some Jayhawks be a part of the nationals. “It is an experience they’ll never forget.”
JCC’S fine showing at the regionals was a boot to the track program and the trip to the nationals was an added boost. Graham said he had sent out letters to all the area high school track coaches hoping to round up some recruits. No replies arrived during the season, but after the Jayhawks’ participation at the regionals, seven arrived. After the news of their appearance at the nationals, four more arrived.
Graham said he already has the commitments of nine high school seniors to come to JCC for track. Graham doesn’t have much to offer and tells recruits, “There’s no track, there’s a limited budget. I tell them all the negative things.” But he has one positive thing to say, “We’re competitive.”
The other thing Graham has to offer is a chance to compete now. If a high school student goes to a four year school, he may be a junior before he makes the traveling squad. At a junior college the talent is needed immediately.
With a year of experience and surprising success under their belts and more candidates out for track things should be different for the Jayhawks next season. One thing that will be different is Graham’s coaching. As mentioned before, he took a laid-back approach this season because the program was new and filled with question marks. Graham said if he had pushed his team members more, “We could have had better times, but we could also have lost half the team.”
Now Graham can push because the program is established and respected in Region 3. Training will start in October and practice will be increased from three to five days a week. During the winter Graham will try to schedule four or five indoor meets.
Going into the season, Graham was skeptical, but he is optimistic about next season. “We’ve got the kids here (in the area) to win that regional meet,” he predicted, “I won’t say how soon.”
Graham doesn’t expect it to be next year. “My goal is to finish third,” he said. But this year he didn’t expect much and finished sixth, so don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks finish third or higher in 1985.