A Wyoming track meet that spanned six presidencies and existed to see both the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and the fall of the Berlin Wall will not take place this year.
What started as the Meet of Champions, and became known as the Wyoming Track & Field Classic, has been indefinitely shelved due to the overwhelming attention and logistics it required of the hosting Kelly Walsh staff.
Kelly Walsh activities director A.J. Nathan confirmed the news to the Star-Tribune, saying that they sent an email to activities directors across the state last year about the intended move and no other school volunteered to take on hosting duties. That, effectively, ended the lifespan of a meet with a history dating back to the mid 1970’s.
Originally, the Meet of Champions pitted the boys state champions in each classification against each other the week after the state meet. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, the Worland Elks Club sponsored the girls’ version of the Meet of Champions. Former Worland track and field coach Steve Mischke remembered that the enthusiasm for both started to drop.
“It came down to that a central location became a better idea,” he said. “Then they moved it to Casper and it fell onto the shoulders of Kelly Walsh.”
Former Kelly Walsh track and field coach Kevin Williams helped arrange the meet for years. In many ways, the meet transformed into his vision as it grew. Basic tenements remained the same but logistical change was needed to offset scheduling conflicts.
“They’d take the four champions and the four next-best marks and go from there,” Williams said. “As it progressed, we brought it to Casper and tried to hold it after the state meet, but basically a lot of schools had graduated or were about to graduate. Participation was really bad with graduation and summer jobs.
“We came up with the idea of the Wyoming Track and Field Classic, where up to the week prior of scheduling we’d take the top eight marks with any race run in lanes and top 10 marks in the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and all field events.”
That’s the way the meet was run for over three decades. Athletes with the best marks were invited and they could decide which events they wanted to participate in. The meet became a staple of the track and field season and featured the talents of not only future collegiate champions (Shanelle Porter, Cheyenne East 1990) but also future World Champions (Jason Boness, Kelly Walsh 1997), future Olympic medalists (John Godina, Cheyenne Central 1991) and even future players in the National Football League.
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“That’s the thing that impresses me, is the opportunity that I had to see the quality of athletes,” Williams said. “Probably the best athletes the state of Wyoming has produced for the past 40 years.”
The move to before the state track meet also brought the conscious effort to pivot toward a more spectator-friendly meet. Events didn’t start until school dismissed and organizers tried to finish all events by 7:30 p.m. That meant shrinking the invite-only track meet to as little as 3 hours.
All of that meant a significant wear on all those involved with putting the meet together. They used to award plaques to honorees that signaled their invitations before the costs became too great. Once enthusiasm for the meet dwindled, Kelly Walsh officials implemented the Casper Invite the following day, giving teams a chance to stay overnight in Casper and compete in the same weekend as their standouts. Even that was not enough for some to participate.
“At the beginning of the season it was a part-time job until two weeks before the meet then it became a full-time job,” Williams explained. “It just became too much. It was almost a full-time job and you’re trying to teach, coach and fund-raise.”
So the Kelly Walsh athletic department sent out emails last season, informing other schools of its decision. No school responded favorably to taking over responsibility of the meet. As a result, the meet will not occur until further notice.
It was a difficult decision for Williams, who had overseen the event for decades, but it became a necessary sacrifice. The stresses of holding the event were not limited to just him, but also Nathan and Kelly Walsh track and field coach Bryan Coventry.
Regardless of what it was called, the meet still means something to those Wyomingites who were around to see it grow. Mischke, who is still active in the Wyoming Coaches Association, always enjoyed the spirit of the competition — pitting the best of Wyoming against each other, regardless of classification.
“We had a good thing going and I hope it gets rekindled,” he said. “I hope people saddle up, re-cinch up and go forward with it. Allow more schools, more coaches to be a part of this rather than having someone responsible for all of it because that is so daunting and the people over at Kelly Walsh did a great job with it.”