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Richwood Relays
Written April 26, 2005

When I was a student in 1961-1965, Richwood High School in Richwood, Ohio, offered only four varsity sports for boys.

In August,  football practice began, while a few other athletes started running on the cross country team.

The fall season ended in November, when basketball started.

And when basketball season ended in March, track and field began.  The highlight of the spring season came on the first Saturday in May, when our school hosted half a dozen others in the Richwood Relays.

Our enrollment was so small that many of the same athletes participated in each season in turn.

For example, this is my classmate Criss Somerlot.  He was a lineman and placekicker on the football team, a forward on the basketball team, and a shotputter and discus thrower on the track team.

Criss still holds the school record in the discus, and he and his wife Rita are now Olympic coaches in track and field.

I was a student manager for each sport (except cross country).

In this picture posed for the yearbook, I fire a starter's pistol, pretending to get a 220-yard dash under way.

During the football and track and field seasons, I worked under head coach Fritz Drodofsky (1925-1984).  Born in Pforzheim, Germany, he came to Ohio with his family in 1927.  After graduating from Otterbein College in 1950, he taught math and coached football at Richwood (except for two years at Galion) until 1973, winning two conference championships.  As head track coach, he founded the Richwood Relays in 1960.

Nowadays, North Union High School has replaced Richwood High, and a synthetic track at the new school has replaced the cinder oval that I knew at old Memorial Field.  But Drodofsky's invitational still continues under its original name.  On April 16, 2005, at the 40th Richwood Relays (apparently a few years were missed), host North Union won the boys competition for the second straight year, while the North Union girls placed second among the seven schools.

UPDATES:  The years were missed because the event was discontinued in 1977 due to deteriorating facilities.  The North Union Athletic Committee built a new track and field layout at the new high school (my father volunteered some help), and the Relays were revived in 1983.

Virg Rankin ran the Relays as North Union's track coach from 1972 to 1995, then became a local sportswriter.  When he announced his retirement in 2013, North Union's officials renamed the event the Virg Rankin Relays in his honor.

Usually a track meet has only a few relay races, in which four teammates each run a quarter of the distance before passing the baton to the next team member.  All the other events are contested by individuals.  Their standing in the results determines the team scoring.  For example, the winning high jumper might earn ten points for his school; the runner-up might earn six points for his school; and so on.

A Relays track meet is different:  almost every event is contested by groups of three or four athletes.  Therefore, to the competing schools, depth is more important than a few individual stars.

There were 15 events in the Richwood Relays in my day.

• Three boys from each school were entered in each of the field events:  Shot Put, Discus, High Jump, Broad Jump (now called Long Jump), and Pole Vault.  Their distances were added together, and the team with the highest total (such as 34 feet in the Pole Vault) won the ten points.

• Four boys from each school were entered in each of seven relay races.

• And there were also two individual events (High Hurdles and Mile Run) and an Octathlon.

For some events, the runners had to stay in their assigned lanes for the whole race, so more lime than usual had to be deposited on the cinders to mark the boundaries of the eight lanes all the way around the oval — 440 yards, a quarter of a mile.  That's two miles of white lines, plus crosswise marks to delineate the staggered starting lines and exchange zones.

Here's how I described the scene in the spring of 1965.  In green:  a rough draft for an essay that I submitted on February 18.  In italics:  excerpts from the script I wrote for the May 1 event, where I would serve as the public address announcer.

The annual Richwood Relays is a unique spectacle.  It begins at sunset and continues on into the night, the track becoming darker and darker as the night progresses.  But the football field in the infield of the track is brightly lighted; the green grass seems to glow when compared to the dark shadows of the track and the blackness of the sky.

Across this football field walk the athletes, wearing various brightly-colored warm-up clothes and running uniforms.  They wander in little groups from one end of the field to the other as they get ready for the next event.

1964 Final Standings:

..

DELAWARE HAYES Pacers

94

.

.

RICHWOOD Tigers

87

.

.

MT. GILEAD Indians

72

.

.

MARION CATHOLIC Fighting Irish

44

.

.

ELGIN Comets

40

.

.

PLEASANT Spartans

32

.

.

BIG WALNUT Eagles

30

.

.

RIVER VALLEY Vikings

9

.

At regular intervals, five sets of four athletes each mount a platform in front of the "stadium," the concrete spectators' grandstand on one side of the field, to be decorated with ribbons by five pretty girls.  They are the victors, and this is their reward.  Meanwhile, running races and field events go on.

8:35 pm  The Sprint Medley, the first of tonight's seven relay-type events, starts and finishes on the south straightaway, directly across the field from the stadium at the 50-yard-line marker.  The big white sign with the 50 on it has been placed in that position so that you can easily tell where the finish line is, from your seat in the stadium.  The first two runners run 110 yards each; the third runner, starting from behind the stadium, runs a 220, which takes him back around to the starting line; and then the anchor man runs a 440.  A total of two laps in the Sprint Medley; seven teams, one heat.


AERIAL PHOTO FROM 1962 "TIGRTRAX" YEARBOOK

8:55 pm  The Octathlon is explained on page 12 of your program.  Actually, it is a little track meet in itself, with only one boy from each team competing.  Their times and distances in the various events earn them points according to a set of predetermined formulas.  For instance, in the 100-Yard Dash, a :13.4 clocking is worth a hundred points.  But for each tenth of a second he can knock off that, the runner gets an additional 25 points.  In most of the events, he should score someplace around 500.  Four events were run yesterday — the Pole Vault, the Broad Jump, the Hurdles, and the Mile Run — and the High Jump and the Shot Put were contested earlier this evening.  Now it's time for the seventh event in the Octathlon, the 100-Yard Dash.

Watch with me one of the more spectacular events of the Relays, the 440-Yard Relay race.

From a tower on the opposite side of the field from the grandstand, an announcer has been warning periodically of the approach of the race.  Meanwhile, other races, similarly announced, have been run, and announcements have been made of races to follow.

When the time for the 440 Relay has arrived, the 28 athletes who will take part in the event congregate at the base of the tower, along with assorted judges, timers, team attendants, and fellow athletes.  Instructions are given to the runners as they take off their warm-up clothes.  Judges and timers check with each other to make sure they have the proper assignments.

Finally, all is ready.  The 28 athletes divide into four groups of seven, with one representative of each team in each group.  Those in the first group remain at the base of the tower and busy themselves in driving spikes into the cinder  track to secure their wooden starting blocks.  Each runner in this first group holds in his hand a baton, a hollow metal tube about a foot long which he will hand to the next runner on his team.  The other three groups head to the exchange zones in the east turn, the backstretch, and the west turn.

Each member of a team will run 110 yards at top speed.  A couple of the exchanges are made on curves, and with seven runners barreling around one of those curves and handing off to seven other runners, there is bound to be a lot of action.

 

In a normal track meet, low hurdles were contested at a distance of 180 yards, which at our track required the hurdlers to start in the middle of the west curve.

9:05 pm  There has been a change in the makeup of the Distance Medley from that listed in your program.  The correct order of the four legs of the relay is 880, 220, 440, Mile.  Repeating:  the 880 is first (two laps), then the 220 (half a lap), the 440 (once around), and the Mile (four laps).  You notice that this adds up to 7½ times around the track.  This means that the Distance Medley will start behind the stadium, in order to finish at the usual place across the way.

9:20 pm  The Shuttle Hurdles is a relay race without a baton.  Each member of a four-man team runs one 120-yard flight of low hurdles.  When he nears the end of the 120 yards, a teammate is waiting there in the starting blocks.  An official is holding the heels of this second runner as he crouches in the blocks.  When the first runner crosses the finish line, the second runner is released by the official and takes off in the opposite direction.  The third hurdler then follows the route of the first, and the fourth hurdler follows the route taken by the second.  The race starts and finishes at the east end of the straightaway.  Since the Shuttles is a rather complicated race, only two teams can participate at the same time; so we shall have to have four heats.

9:50 pm  The 880 Relay consists of four 220’s.  It begins and ends on the south straightaway, and that's where the second exchange will be made; but the first and third exchanges take place behind the stadium.

 

 

 

The spectacle continues, but what exactly is happening?  The running events at the Relays are frequently hard to follow.

The track on which they are run is only spottily lit, making it difficult to see the runners.  Even if the runners can be seen, they cannot be identified; there is no numbering system to distinguish one member of a team from another, and sometimes the team uniforms are so similar in color that it is nearly impossible to tell even from what school a boy comes.

The track goes behind the grandstand rather than in front of it, so a good portion of many of the races is hidden from view.  The finish is also hard to see [photo here], for it is on the opposite side of the field from the grandstand, and there are usually many non-participating athletes standing alongside the track to block the spectators' view.  Frequently all a person in the grandstand can see of the finish is an occasional glimpse of the seven runners dashing towards the line, followed by wild cheering and the sudden light of flashbulbs.  Several minutes later he learns who won when the placing and times are announced over the public-address system.

But it's fun to watch 'em run, even if the spectator has little idea of who's ahead.

Field events are even harder to watch from the grandstand.  Except for the Pole Vault, these events take place behind it or off to one side.  The spectator must choose one event, go to the area where it is being held, and stay with it.  Even then, it's extremely difficult to tell who's leading unless somebody keeps a complicated chart.

In short, track and field could hardly be called a good spectator sport.  There is too much that goes on that cannot be seen, and too much that can be seen that cannot be understood.  There is little continuity of action; there is little interteam rivalry.  The whole idea is that after everyone has done his best, the points are totaled and a winner is announced.  And, for this reason, the Richwood Relays is not so much a competitive game as a lengthy, episodic, mostly-organized exhibition of athletic ability.

10:20 pm  So this concludes the sixth Richwood Relays.  We want to say thanks to all those whose efforts made this fine meet possible — to starter Don Parsons, to the timers and judges, to the officials around the track, and to the men who ran the various field events, as well as to all our assistants — but most of all we want to thank you, the spectators whose interest in these athletes has inspired them to be swifter, higher, stronger.  Don't forget the Mid-Ohio Conference meet here next Tuesday night.  Until then, or until we see you again, good luck.

 

UPDATE: Here are the results from the 2014 event.

 

TBT

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