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Oregon celebrates 50 years of girls state meet - DyeStat

Published by
DyeStat   on May 21 2014, 10:50 PM

High school girls track in Oregon turns 50

 

By Doug Binder, DyeStat Editor

 
Fifty years ago this week, a state championship track meet of sorts drew 500 girls to Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore.

 
Acceptance as an Oregon Schools Activities Association event was still four years away. Title IX legislation was still eight years away.

 

VIDEO FROM CEREMONY


But on May 23, 1964, a young coach named Jim Puckett of Pleasant Hill High School put the meet together and opened the sport of track and field to girls in Oregon in a big way.


On Wednesday, some who were there in 1964 and a lot more who weren't gathered near the track at Willamette and dedicated a commemorative plaque.


Track historians Kim Spir and Jack Pfeifer have been explored the early roots of girls track and field -- in Oregon and elsewhere -- for years. And Spir, an Oregon native and a 1970s member of the University of Oregon team, has worked to unearth the pioneers in the sport who came before she did.


"You hear about Margaret Johnson, Janice Hughes and Margaret George and it's like they aren't even postscripts (in history). It's like they don't even exist," Spir said. "So we were after a fair, truthful accounting of what really happened."


What happened was the result of a convergence of many things going on at once. Bill Bowerman was the head track coach at the Univesity of Oregon and he was beginning to spread the word about the benefits of "jogging" after a trip to New Zealand to meet innovative coach Arthur Lydiard. Two of Bowerman's recent college athletes, Puckett and Bill Dellinger, were coaching at nearby high schools. (Dellinger in 1964 would earn an Olympic bronze medal in the 5,000 meters, but also coached at Springfield High).


Puckett had been known as the "Cove Comet," hailing from a tiny town in Eastern Oregon. He ran a state record 9.6 seconds in the 100 yards in 1958 and then helped Bowerman's Ducks win their first NCAA title in 1962.


In 1963, Puckett got his first job coaching at Pleasant Hill, a logging town southeast of Eugene. And the school had a young athlete named Janice Hughes, a sprinter with few opportunities to compete. 


The details of a 1963 meet for girls at Pleasant Hill has been mostly obscured because few in the press bothered to pay it any attention. Long-established gender roles caused many in society to react negatively to females pursuing sports. But in Eugene, promotion of the idea that "track and field is for everybody" was starting to gain a little bit of traction.


In 1964, the influential Puckett put a meet together and got a sanction from the national governing body (instead of the OSAA).


The meet was separated by an age division. There was a 13-and-under competition and a 14-and-over category in which athletes represented their schools.


Margaret Johnson was a 13-year-old, not yet in high school. But she was just four years away from becoming an Olympian at the 1968 Mexico City Games and her high school records are the standard in Oregon to this day. (At 11.30/22.95 her times are virtually untouchable).


At that first state meet, Johnson ran 10.8 seconds for 100 yards for an American age-group (12-13) record.


The Oregonian newspaper reported that Pleasant Hill won the team title with 59 points. It was no wonder, considering that Hughes won three events individually and was part of a relay.


In that first list of team scores there are clues about which schools got a head start embracing girls athletics. A list of schools, large and small, included: Pleasant Hill, Grants Pass, Hudson's Bay (of Vancouver, Wash.), North Eugene, Corvallis, Thurston, Central (Independence), Roseburg, Crow, Eagle Point, Oakland, Wilson, Brookings, Hillsboro, Canyonville, Siuslaw, Glide, Medford, Amity, Junction City, Madison, Camas Valley, Cottage Grove, Mapleton and Milwaukie.


A year later, the event grew and was moved to Springfield's Silke Field (where Dellinger coached) and it stayed there until the 1970s. In 1966, a handful of Oreogn's prep standouts -- including Hughes and Johnson -- traveled to compete at the National Women's and Girls' Track Championships in Frederick, Md.


Oregon's girls state meet was one of the first in the U.S., but that distinction lies elsewhere. In Iowa, where girls basketball has been a fixture since the 1920s, the first official state meet was in 1962.


But as a track and field community built up in and around Eugene in the early 1960s -- and was later whipped into a frenzy by Steve Prefontaine -- the inclusion of females to the narrative in 1964 surely helped in that growth.


And 50 years after that first girls state meet, Eugene will chart new territory again.

 

The city will host the IAAF World Juniors Championships at Hayward Field in July.

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