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Historic Drake Stadium home to Iowa state track meet

Drake_Stadium 

By John Gillis 

One of the nation's top high school state track meets is annually held in one of the nation’s finest facilities.

The Iowa High School Track and Field Championships are held every May in historic Drake Stadium in Des Moines. It brings together track athletes from the governing bodies for the two genders ‑ the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA – boys) and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU ‑ girls).

With a capacity of 14,557, Drake Stadium was built in 1925. In 2005, it underwent significant renovation, including reconfiguring the track in which its lanes were widened from 42 inches to 48 inches. In addition, the $15 million project included new venues for the weight events; permanent lights; a video scoreboard; FieldTurf artificial grass on the infield; and various improvements to the seating, restrooms, concessions and press box.

The year 2005 was significant for two other reasons. First, it marked the 100th anniversary of the IHSAA’s first state track meet. Second, it was the first year that a co-ed state track meet was held.

Since joining the organization in 1989, IHSAA Assistant Executive Director Dave Anderson has helped manage the state track meet and was quickly elevated to the meet’s top administrative position. A former high school track and football coach who participated in the state track meet himself while in high school, Anderson has served as the formal meet director for the past 20 years and was one of the driving forces behind combining the boys and girls state track meets.

“For many years ‑ mainly due to the fact that Iowa has separate governing organizations for boys and girls high school sports ‑ we had two state meets, with the girls one weekend and the boys the following weekend,” Anderson explained. “The main emphasis in merging the two was to better serve our students, schools, officials and spectators.

“Our desire was to bring the meet together so our schools, parents and officials did not have to be in Des Moines two weekends in a row. The impact has been almost unbelievable. We fill Drake Stadium for three days, and what a thrill it is for students to perform in front of such a large and enthusiastic crowd.”

According to IHSAA Sports Information Director Bud Legg, the state meet is big on a number of levels.

“We have had paid crowds of 37,000 for our state co-ed meet ‑ which doesn’t include more than 4,000 athletes, 1,200 coaches and managers, and 300 media representatives,” Legg said. “We simply do not have another venue in Iowa that could accommodate the meet. We believe that it may be one of the largest high school meets in the nation at one site.

Dave_Anderson_IA  Bud_Legg 
Dave Anderson  Bud Legg 

“The IHSAA’s experience at Drake dates back to 1908 when it was called Haskin Field. We used it virtually every year it was available – sometimes for two of our four classes. From 1940 to 1972, we usually split the classes to various sites around the state. Since 1973, we have run all four classes there. Our relationship with Drake has been great, and although he is retired, we still use former Drake University Sports Information Director Mike Mahon as press box coordinator for the meet.”

“There was apprehension when the Iowa girls and boys associations combined their state track and field meets into the same week,” said Mahon, a 1995 College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame inductee who recently received its Lifetime Achievement Award. “Each meet had been held on successive weekends at Drake Stadium, drawing near-capacity crowds.

“But, the first Iowa co-ed state meet proved to be a rousing success and many questioned why it wasn't done earlier. Now, the Iowa High School Track and Field Championships is one of the most successful in the country in terms of attendance.”

As is the case with many state tournament facilities around the nation, Drake Stadium possesses a long and rich history.

“In all states, traditional state tournaments are revered,” Anderson said. “Here in Iowa, we have the “dome” in football, and for many years old Vets Auditorium was the “barn” for wrestling and basketball. For track and field, it has always been the “blue oval” at Drake. The Drake University staff has always been excellent to work with.

“I would describe the state track meet as being ‘momentous.’ It is a special weekend when sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, male and female officials, and coaches of both genders all gather to enjoy the performances of the best Iowa track and field competitors.

“Adding to the experience is we have Mike Jay as our announcer. Mike’s an old track and cross country guy who can bring life to even the poorest race of the day. He knows how to let kids know their performances are appreciated, and can really fire up a crowd.”

Not surprisingly, many of Iowa’s greatest high school track performances have occurred at the state meet. Among them were the following boys state-record and team championship performances:

 

*High jump – 7-3½ ‑ Brian Tietjens (Manly North Central High School), 1981

*400-meter hurdles ‑ :50.96 – Dustin Avey (Ames High School), 1996

* 4x400-meter relay ‑ 3:13.80 (West Des Moines Valley High School), 2006

*Most Team Championships Won by a School – 20 (Ames High School)

*Most Team Championships Won by a Coach – 10 – John Raffensperger (Iowa City High School)

*Most Consecutive Team Championships Won by a School – 6 – Ames High School (1986-91) and Iowa City High School (1992-97)

 

 Mike_Jay   Mike_Mahon 
Mike Jay  Mike Mahon 

Ranking tied for second in the “Most Individual State Championships in a Career” is Tim Dwight, who won eight state track titles while competing for Iowa City High School from 1991 to 1994. Although not particularly big at 5-8, 180 pounds, Dwight was a standout high school football and track athlete who still holds the Iowa state record in the 200-meter dash (:20.8), was a two-time All-American football player for the University of Iowa, and later played 10 seasons in the National Football League.

The record for most individual state titles, however, is a tie between a male and a female athlete who both have been inducted into the NFHS' National High School Hall of Fame - the highest honor for anyone involved with high school athletics or performing arts activities.

In 2007, Clyde Duncan - who won nine state track titles from 1962 to 1964 while at Des Moines North High School - was inducted. A year later, Natasha Kaiser-Brown - who also won nine state track titles while at Des Moines Roosevelt High School from 1982 to 1985 – also joined the Hall of Fame.

Duncan won the 100-, 220- and 440-yard dashes in each of his three years in the state track meet. Making his accomplishments even more remarkable was the fact that the state track and field meet was a one-day event, which meant that he had to run two preliminaries and three finals in the span of four hours.

Kaiser-Brown won state titles in six individual events and three relays. Interestingly, she lost only one race in four years of competition and graduated in 1985 with state records in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes. She won the state meet 200-meter dash four consecutive years, and set both the state record in the 100-meter dash and the state meet record in the 200-meter dash at the 1985 state track meet.

Although perhaps not physically imposing in high school, Duncan nonetheless had speed to burn.

“Back then, I was 5-10, 150, max. I was a skinny boy,” Duncan recalled. “I was a very blessed guy to be able to run fast ‑ I don’t know why or how I was able to do that. I guess I have to thank my mom and dad for their genes. The biggest reason for my high school success was coach Jimmy Lyle ‑ he trained me to become the runner I became.

“Whenever I entered Drake Stadium through that tunnel, I’d always look left and right ‑ it was a magnifying experience. The crowd was always electrifying and it brought chills to my skin.

“The only thing that I thought about while competing was the fact that my parents and siblings were there in the crowd. I did realize one thing in 1964 - that that would be it for me running high school track.”

In addition to being inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame, in 2005 Duncan’s likeness was permanently displayed with a life-sized bronze statue of him in the Iowa Hall of Pride in Des Moines.

“That was a very proud moment for me when that happened ‑ I shed a few tears. I’m very thankful to them, particularly since it’s in my hometown.

“I was very honored to be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame. That same year, former professional football quarterback Jim Plunkett was inducted. I grew up watching him play, so it was an honor to go in the same year.”

For Kaiser-Brown, her introduction to running and to Drake Stadium came at a very young age.

“Everybody ran track in my father’s family ‑ and there were seven kids in the family,” Kaiser-Brown said. “That was how I got started running.

“I grew up near Drake Stadium,” Kaiser-Brown said. “When I was a kid, I’d always sneak inside and run on the track. It was an amazing experience to be in there and to try to imagine being in a meet. I was never sure if I’d actually get to do it.

 Clyde_Duncan  Natasha_Kaiser_Brown 
 Clyde Duncan   Natasha Kaiser-Brown 

“Running in the state meet in high school was the coolest thing ever. Our conference championships and the Drake Relays were also there, so I was there three times a year. Not having the opportunity to do that could make it hard to compete in the state meet, with the unfamiliarity with the surroundings.

“My greatest state track meet memory was probably my freshman year, because I didn’t think I was going to make it. It’s rare for a freshman to make the state finals and even rarer to win it.

“I remember running in the 200-yard dash finals that year, coming off the turn and getting to the finish line where I beat my opponent at the tape. The photo they took looks like I was leaning, but I was really saying ‘Wow ‑ was that close!’ That started the following three years of trying to win the title. It’s a good pressure to have ‑ I’m good with the target on my back.”

When Kaiser-Brown received the telephone call from the NFHS informing her that she was selected to the National High School Hall of Fame, she initially didn’t believe it.

“I thought they were kidding me when they told me about it,” Kaiser-Brown recalled. ”Just getting nominated is a cool experience, so when they told me I got in, I was thrilled. My first call was to my dad.

“The Hall of Fame was such an amazing thing – not just track athletes, but people in all sports and also in things like band and choir. There was so much pomp and circumstance the whole weekend.

“I got asked to be the acceptance speaker for the induction class. That’s sort of funny because the two things I hate are the 400-yard dash and public speaking. It was really cool ‑ I thanked the audience for coming to the banquet to honor us.”

 

John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at jgillis@nfhs.org
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