State Track Meet : Hawthorne, Muir Win Titles, but It Isn’t Easy
Great champions have the ability to survive a knockout punch.
Saturday night, before 6,500 shivering spectators at Hughes Stadium, Hawthorne’s boys and Pasadena Muir’s girls each overcame a devastating blow and went on to win State track and field team championships.
For Hawthorne, a pre-meet favorite to claim its third straight title and become the only team since Los Angeles Jefferson--four in a row from 1949-1952-- to win more than back-to-back championships, the surprise punch was the failure of Mr. Reliable, Sean Kelly, to score a point in the 800-meter run. Expected to win or place highly, Kelly finished last in a field of eight. No points. Suddenly Coach Kye Courtney’s juggernaut looked extremely vulnerable.
“I thought we were in trouble after I didn’t run well in the 800,” Kelly said. “Coach was mad. We knew we had to win the last race (1,600-meter relay) to win the meet. I told the other guys we better win ‘cause it’s a long walk back to Hawthorne. Spending 45 minutes on the plane would be too much with Coach sitting right there. We were even joking about getting money for a Greyhound.”
There was no joking on the track, however, as Michael Marsh, winner of the 200; Von Joyce; Michael Graham, second in the 300 hurdles, and Kelly were all business, cruising to a 3:14.13 and a championship with 29 points, 2 1/2 ahead of second-place Bakersfield.
“We could have quit, because Sean’s race hurt us, no question,” Courtney said. “But the kids really didn’t want to walk home. Hey, I’m telling you track is a crazy thing. You think you can coast and then something goes wrong.”
Enter Muir Coach Jim Brownfield.
“That really was a blow to the solar plexus when we dropped the baton in the 400 relay to open the meet,” he said. “I thought, ‘oh, oh.’ But we got them together and told them they’d come too far to be upset.”
Muir, which eventually totaled 55 points to edge second-place Hawthorne, with 46, bounced back in dramatic fashion, going 1-2 in the 100 low hurdles, Lana Cantrell edging Carrie Franklin.
Cantrell and Franklin later teamed up with Nikky Caddell and Linetta Wilson to outrun Hawthorne in the 1,600-meter relay to clinch the meet, Wilson running a courageous anchor leg.
“Coach always tells us to use it or we’ll lose it,” said Wilson of her coach who won his first title. “You have to dig for it. If you want it bad enough, you’ll win.”
One athlete who definitely wanted it was Locke’s Chewuakii (Choo Choo) Knighten, who along with teammate Tesha Giddens led the Saints to a third-place finish. Late Friday, it looked as if a technicality would deny Knighten the chance to defend her title in the 400 meters. However, after City Commissioner Jim Cheffers spoke in her behalf, a jury of appeals ruled that she would be allowed to compete. She won the 400, finished third in the 100 hurdles and second to a quick-starting Giddens in the 100.
After the 100, the two runners embraced.
“People say we have a lot of animosity,” said Giddens, who also finished second in the 200. “But we’re competitors. When she hugged me, it gave me a lift.”
For Huntington Beach Marina’s Chip Rish, the defending champion in the 400, the motivation was a group of writers who had picked him to finish second behind Fairfax’s Danny Everett. Rish not only won but turned in a State record of 45.7, overpowering Everett who finished in 46.37.
Said a jubilant Rish: “I wasn’t going to let Danny pass me in the stretch. I didn’t care if it killed me.”
Rish survived as did Belmont’s brilliant Roman Gomez, who toyed with his opposition in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and Capistrano Valley’s awesome weight man Brian Blutreich, who doubled in the shotput and discus, setting meet records in both.
Surprisingly, Gomez, the defending State champion in both events, indicated he had a bad case of nerves before his races.
“I was so nervous I was crying in the bathroom before the 3,200,” he said. “I guess it was the pressure of trying to defend. But Coach (Robin Paulsen) said to relax and go out and win. Once I got out there I felt great.”
Not just great, according to Eric Mastalir of Jesuit Sacramento.
“The guy’s incredible. No, just say he’s awesome. What a kick. He’s a great runner.”