PREP WEDNESDAY : THE UNTOUCHABLES : These County Track Records Are Steeped in History
This Saturday at 3:45 p.m., eight women will line up on the track at Mt. San Antonio College for the Mt. SAC Relays’ invitational 400-meter dash.
Moments before the race, the meet announcer will introduce the field.
“Rochelle Stevens, NCAA 400-meter champion from Morgan State ... Maicel Malone, U.S. Olympian from Arizona State ... Schowanda Williams, U.S. Olympian, formerly of Louisiana State ... Arlise Emerson, unattached
Few in the crowd will recognize the name. But those who do will remember one of the many legends in Orange County high school track and field.
Emerson set the county girls’ record in the 400 meters at 53.42 seconds while running for Westminster High School in 1978. Emerson’s record is just one of seven individual county marks that have stood for more than 10 years.
The other records that have stood this long are in the boys’ and girls’ long jump, the boys’ mile and two mile, the boys’ half-mile and the pole vault.
Here’s a look at the athletes who set those records and what they’re doing now.
400 meters in 53.42
Now working as an insurance underwriting manager in Seattle, Emerson, 27, is the only longtime county record holder currently competing in track and field. Her debut at the Mt. SAC meet this weekend will be her first serious attempt at a comeback since she quit the sport in 1984.
At Westminster, Emerson, who was born without a left hand, won the 1978 State meet as a junior by outrunning Locke’s Valerie Brisco. Brisco went on to win a gold medal in the event in the 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles.
After graduating from Westminster in 1979, Emerson competed in summer meets for the U.S. junior national team in the Soviet Union and West Germany. She went on to a successful four-year career at UCLA, where she roomed with Florence Griffith.
Emerson recorded her 400-meter best of 51.69 in 1983, but two years later, after a serious hamstring injury, she hung up her spikes.
What is her inspiration for a comeback?
“A large part is that I felt I haven’t yet accomplished what I wanted to do,” Emerson said. “And since I still have the hunger and desire and I’m still able to walk, I said nothing will stop me. I am really motivated.
“The way I stopped in ’85, I feel that was an unfinished area in my life. I would go to track meets and watch and just know I could go out there and do it again.”
No one has come close to breaking Emerson’s record. Edison’s Barbara Rainey ran 55.42--two full seconds slower--in 1983. This season, Woodbridge’s Kaci Keffer leads the county at 57.75.
El Dorado (1978)
Pole vaulted 16-6
After vaulting just 10-feet in his freshman year in high school, Ernst might have considered joining his four brothers in their specialty--distance running.
But Ernst persevered and steadily improved, vaulting 13-6 as a sophomore and 15-7 as a junior.
His 16-6 mark as a senior has been closely challenged--especially last year as Edison’s David Noel vaulted 16-4. This season, Eric Whitcomb of Valencia leads the county at 15-1.
“My dad always sends me the local papers, so I can see who’s getting close,” said Ernst, now a lieutenant in the Navy and a physical therapist at the Oakland Naval Hospital.
“I think it’s pretty neat (that vaulters are closing in on his record), but I won’t be terribly upset when it’s broken because that’s what it’s there for,” he said.
After high school, Ernst continued his athletic career at Washington State, qualifying for the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships his sophomore, junior and senior years. An All-American as a junior, Ernst leaped a lifetime best 17-2 several times in his collegiate career.
El Toro (1977)
Long jumped 19-9
When told that she still holds the county long-jump record, Gourdine, now Gourdine-Pina of Houston, didn’t believe it.
“That is so strange ,” she said. “I mean, just the way the sport has progressed, with the technical knowledge, you’d think that it would be broken by now.”
But few have come close. It has been six years since a county athlete broke the 19-foot barrier. And last year, Sandi Lucas of Corona del Mar became the only athlete in the past four years to break 18 feet (18-3). Mission Viejo junior Allison Axtell currently leads the county at 17-9 1/2.
But Gourdine was, above all, a tremendous athlete. In addition to her long-jump record, she ran the 110-yard low hurdles in 14.09 seconds--a mark that would merit as the official county record had it been run in a high school meet instead of an age-group competition.
A State long-jump champion in 1977, Gourdine continued her athletic career at UCLA, qualifying for the NCAAs all four years. With a best mark of 20-5, Gourdine was ranked fifth in the nation as a sophomore. After graduating from UCLA, Gourdine competed off and on but finally quit to pursue a career in corporate health and fitness.
“I got to the point where I wasn’t winning any more, and I knew I had to go on with my life,” said Gourdine, 29, who works as a sales and marketing director at a Houston health club.
“There wasn’t any money in track back then, at least not like there is now,” she said. “In some ways, I regret quitting, yeah. But there wasn’t really a choice. I needed the money from working . . .
“I was thinking about running again, next year I’ll probably try to get into corporate track and field. But get back in the circuit? No way.”
Laguna Beach (1976)
Two Mile in 8:44.6
If any high school track and field athlete put Orange County on the map, Hulst might have been the one.
From the first year of his running career, Hulst was a national sensation. A tennis player though junior high, Hulst joined the cross-country team as a ninth-grader on the suggestion of a neighbor.
In four years at Laguna Beach, Hulst won three Southern Section 2-A cross-country titles, a 19-and-under world cross-country title, and set national high school two-mile records for freshmen (9:04.4), sophomores (8:50.6) and juniors (8:44.9). All three records still hold today.
His high school best--8:44.6--was a national record until Burbank’s Jeff Nelson ran 8:36.6 in 1979.
But Hulst’s training methods brought almost as much attention as his race performances. As a freshman, he ran 90 miles a week, and by his senior year, Hulst was averaging 130 miles a week. His workouts included running hundreds of stadium steps, many times under the weight of a 10-pound lead vest.
With the massive work load, and a never-say-die mentality, Hulst became one of the best distance runners in the nation. But, after continuing his running career at UC Irvine, he also suffered chronic knee injuries that eventually ended his running altogether.
“Lots of people assume I burned out mentally,” said Hulst, who lives in Costa Mesa where he owns a wallpapering business. “But that was never true. If the knee hadn’t given out, I’d probably still be out there (competing) today. It was the body that gave in, not the mind.
“But it was a good time in my life. I wasn’t depressed when I gave it up. I’m happy I got what I did from it.”
Today, Hulst rides his bicycle for exercise, occasionally competing in 100-mile rides.
This season, Dana Hills’ Mike Tansley leads the county with a 9:10 best, though both Corona del Mar’s Eddie Lavelle (9:06.08) and Santa Ana Valley’s Jimmy Rodriguez (9:06.24) ran faster last year. Both hope to break the 9-minute barrier this year--something that hasn’t been done by a county athlete since Jon Butler of Edison ran 8:49.86 in 1981.
Santa Ana Valley (1978)
Long jumped 24-5
An all-around athlete, Pitts made his mark as a senior at the 1978 Arcadia Invitational. He won the event there in his record-setting 24-5.
After graduating from high school, Pitts spent the summer competing in meets from Taiwan to Tennessee.
At Rancho Santiago College, Pitts won South Coast Conference titles in the 200 meters and the long jump, setting a school record in the latter at 25-1 1/2. He finished second in the State meet long jump the same year.
“I pulled a quadriceps muscle before the 1980 Olympics, and then I got married, so I had to quit,” said Pitts, who lives in Fountain Valley and works for the food-service department of a Costa Mesa hospital.
“I may be deciding to get back into it this summer, though. In all-comer meets, probably.”
This season, Orange Lutheran’s Jason Neben has leaped 23-0 3/4 for the current county best.
Garden Grove (1972)
Mile in 4:05.4
Along with Hulst’s mark, Schilling’s record--the oldest of them all--is one that county distance runners have only dreamed of breaking.
Last year, Newport Harbor’s Jim Geerlings ran 4:10.4, and this year Corona del Mar’s Lavelle leads the county with a 4:13.3 mile (converted from a 4:11.9 1,600 meters).
Al Siddons, who coached Schilling at Garden Grove, said the reason the record has yet to be broken is that athletes don’t put in the miles they used to.
“That’s the thing now, to run less mileage,” said Siddons, now coach at Rancho Santiago College. “But Mark used to run 100 miles a week or so, most of it on his own. It made him a stronger runner.”
When asked about this, Schilling, now a United Parcel Service supervisor in San Luis Obispo, chuckled.
“I used to lie about my mileage a lot,” he said. “In those days, it was all LSD (long slow distance) training. I used to say I was running those big miles, but I ran about 70 miles a week really.
“We did some crazy things too, like a 50-miler that took 7 1/2 hours to finish. And a 24-hour relay. . . . I think that’s what made me decide I wanted to be a miler. There was no reason to hurt for 30 minutes, if I could just hurt for four.”
It was with this philosophy that Schilling competed as well. Never one to race just the clock, Schilling often posted some of the slowest times going into finals of competitions.
“I only raced to win,” he said.
And on June 3, 1972, Schilling did just that, winning the mile at the State meet by outkicking the favorite, Terry Cotton of El Cajon, and outleaning him at the tape. His time of 4:05.4--including a 56.7-second final lap--still stands as the California state record.
Along with it being an upset, the time was especially impressive as it was run on a soft, dirt track in temperatures that ranged in the mid-90s.
Schilling, who, on the invitation of meet sponsors, has traveled to the State meet for the last few years to pass out trophies, said he thought the record would be broken long ago.
“It seemed like the first few years was when it was in the most jeopardy,” he said. “With people like (Ralph) Serna at Loara, and Eric Hulst. It’ll be 17 years this year since I set it, and now I’d like to see it reach 20 and then get broken.”
Schilling, who ran with the San Luis Obispo Aggies running club for a few years after a successful stint at San Jose State, has since quit running competitively.
“I’d like to be there when they break my record,” he said. “Watching them race at State, it gives me a rush, it gets me all hyped up to race again.”
880 in 1:48.8
Now a Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini mechanic in Corona del Mar, Walters won the State 880 title in 1977 by outkicking his arch rival, Dave Kingsland of El Modena.
Walters started out as a quarter-miler, running the one-lapper in 49.4. His natural speed helped, but not as much as his uncanny ability to predict--and respond to--the moves of his opponents.
Walters went on to USC where he became the 1979 Pac-10 champion at 800 meters. His best time in college (1:47.6) did not satisfy him.
“I could’ve done a lot better,” he said. “But I was happy just with winning. After two years, I dropped out, got married and had two kids.”
Walters tried to get back into track for a few years after college, but chronic foot injuries forced him to quit.
“Do I regret it? You always do,” he said.
Since 1977, Woodbridge’s Eric Schermerhorn has come closest to Walters’ mark, having run 1:49.21 for 800 meters in 1984. Currently, Edison’s Doug Nichols leads the county with a mark of 1:53.93.
ORANGE COUNTY TRACK AND FIELD RECORDS BOYS
100 meters Elliott Dunning (Santa Ana Valley) 10.57 200 meters Chip Rish (Marina) 21.01 400 meters Chip Rish (Marina) 45.7 800 meters Eric Schermerhorn (Woodbridge) 1:49.21 880 yards Jim Walters (Estancia) 1:48.8 1,600 meters Jon Butler (Edison) 4:06.75 Mile Mark Schilling (Garden Grove) 4:05.4 3,200 meters Jon Butler (Edison) 8:46.78 Two-Mile Eric Hulst (Laguna Beach) 8:44.6 110-meter hurdles Steve Kerho (Mission Viejo) 13.41 300-meter hurdles Keith Pontiflet (Esperanza) 36.74 400-meter relay Santa Ana Valley 41.86 1,600-meter relay Fountain Valley 3:16.41 Distance Medley relay Corona del Mar 10:09.71 High Jump Doug Dreibelbis (Foothill) 6-11 3/4 Long Jump Tony Pitts (Santa Ana Valley) 24-5 Triple Jump Ken Williams (Troy) 50-3 1/2 Pole Vault Greg Ernst (El Dorado) 16-6 Shot Put Brian Blutreich (Capistrano Valley) 69-6 1/2 Discus Brian Blutreich (Capistrano Valley) 210-8 GIRLS 100 meters Estelle White (Saddleback) 11.89 200 meters Annette Rogers (University) 24.39 400 meters Arlise Emerson (Westminster) 53.42 800 meters Rene Durrand (Laguna Beach) 2:06.36 1,600 meters Polly Plumer (University) 4:39.92 3,200 meters Teresa Barrios (University) 10:29.03 100 meter hurdles Laura Mills (University) 14.08 300 meter hurdles Sharon Hatfield (Fountain Valley) 42.55 400 meter relay Edison 47.65 1,600-meter relay Corona del Mar 3:48.28 Distance Medley relay University 11:43.53 Triple Jump Debbie Orr (Ocean View) 39-8 Long Jump Lisa Gourdine (El Toro) 19-9 High Jump Yleana Carrasco (Anaheim) 6-0 Discus Natalie Kaaiawahia (Fullerton) 174-9 Shot Put Natalie Kaaiawahia (Fullerton) 53-7 3/4 * Heptathlon Sharon Hatfield (Fountain Valley) 5,237 *
100 meters 1984 200 meters 1985 400 meters 1985 800 meters 1984 880 yards 1977 1,600 meters 1981 Mile 1972 3,200 meters 1981 Two-Mile 1976 110-meter hurdles 1982 300-meter hurdles 1985 400-meter relay 1984 1,600-meter relay 1981 Distance Medley relay 1989 High Jump 1983 Long Jump 1978 Triple Jump 1982 Pole Vault 1978 Shot Put 1985 Discus 1985 GIRLS 100 meters 1982 200 meters 1984 400 meters 1978 800 meters 1982 1,600 meters 1982 3,200 meters 1982 100 meter hurdles 1981 300 meter hurdles 1982 400 meter relay 1984 1,600-meter relay 1988 Distance Medley relay 1982 Triple Jump 1986 Long Jump 1977 High Jump 1984 Discus 1983 Shot Put 1983 Heptathlon 1982
* National record. Marks recorded in age-group or open competition--such as Mary Decker’s 2:02.29 800 in 1974, or Polly Plumer’s national record 4:35.24 mile set in the 1982 Pepsi Meet--are not counted as high school records here. Marks must be set in high school-level competition only.
Sources: Don Chadez, Orange County Track 1989 and Jack Shepard and Mike Kennedy, High School Track 1989.