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Standing the test of time: City’s oldest track records belong to I.F.

Members of the 1978 Idaho Falls High School track team as pictured in the 1978 edition of the Idaho Falls High School yearbook, The Spud. Front row, left to right: coach Russ Radford, Susan Christensen, Lori Higley, Judi Ploetz, Clare Oliver, Lana Davis, Linda Beller. Back row, left to right: Nancy Henken, Joe Cox, Shane Williams, Ken Noel, Jamey Fielding, Mike Mondada. Photo courtesy of Helene Willsey Johnson

By MARLOWE HEREFORD
mhereford@postregister.com

Rubberized asphalt 400-meter tracks, fully automatic timing, the Fosbury Flop and starting blocks have all changed the world of track and field within the last half century.

John Kaufman pictured in the 1968 edition of the Idaho Falls High School yearbook, The Spud. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Idaho

The oldest high school track and field records in Idaho Falls either predate those innovations, or were set not long after they were introduced, and they belong to Idaho Falls High School.

There is a tie for the oldest boys record between John Kaufman and Dan Dixon who set school records in spring 1968. Kaufman ran 48.8 seconds for 440 yards, which measures to 402.336 meters when converted from standard to metric. Dixon, a thrower, had a mark of 56 feet, 11 inches in shot put. The city’s oldest girls record was set a decade later by the quartet of Kerrie (Pinder) Stone, Lori (Higley) Baldwin, Helene (Willsey) Johnson and Nancy (Henken) Stewart with a time of four minutes, 9.3 seconds in the 4×400-meter relay.

Contact information for Kaufman could not be obtained by the Post Register for this story, but former Idaho Falls coach and local track expert Terry Jensen said Kaufman’s record was set when the Ravsten Stadium track was dirt. That reality — and the fact that 440 yards is farther than 400 meters — makes his record time all the more impressive to current I.F. 400 runners James Vance and JoJo Harris, both seniors.

“Props to them,” Vance said. “The 400 is hard enough.”

“That’s such a fast time,” Harris added.

Dixon, currently an associate broker in Boise, was a junior in 1968. He said he was unaware he was the school record holder until reached by the Post Register, and he could not remember when or where the record was set.

“I didn’t even know I had a record,” Dixon said in a phone interview. “It surprises me that it stayed a long time. It makes me really feel proud and good remembering that I left a mark there.”

Current Idaho Falls throwers Ryan Milton, a junior, and Ethan Perttula, a sophomore, have known about Dixon’s record for a while. Milton first learned about it when he started throwing in ninth grade.

Shot put athlete Dan Dixon pictured in the 1968 edition of the Idaho Falls High School yearbook, The Spud. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Idaho

“That’s pretty far and I know that,” Milton said. “It’s pretty impressive, I guess, that someone could throw that far.”

Perttula learned about it when he was invited to I.F.’s varsity track program’s annual “Dinner of Champions” following an accomplished eighth grade track season. He said it will take much effort to beat.

“A lot of hard work, a lot of practice and some luck,” Perttula said. “I know we’ve had some good athletes that can throw far. I was surprised no one’s beaten it yet.”

Dixon was added to I.F.’s program in 1966 as a freshman, an occurrence so unusual for the 1960s that Dixon said he and older brother Dave, then a senior, were featured in both the Post Register and the Idaho Statesman. Dixon also competed in the 100-yard dash and 4×440 and said he and Dave traded wins in the throwing events in 1966.

He lost interest in track by his senior season as his football career took off, drawing interest from 25-plus colleges including some Ivy Leagues. He played one year for the University of Washington before finishing his college career at Boise State.

Dixon does not follow football or track anymore, but is an avid hiker. He said he has fond memories of track, however, crediting I.F. head track coach Ed Jacoby for spending much time after hours and on weekends coaching him and Dave.

“If it wasn’t for Coach Jacoby, I wouldn’t have picked up a shot put,” Dixon said. “He put in so much time helping me and my brother. Coach Jacoby was probably one of the best coaches that I ran into.”

A decade after Kaufman and Dixon, the girls 4×400 record was set at the 1978 Idaho state meet at Boise State. Johnson, a senior that season, said she knew the record still stood when she attended her 35th class reunion. She usually ran anchor leg for the 4×400 but at state, she ran first leg and had hopes of redeeming herself after ‘choking’ in her open event finals earlier. The Tigers, assigned to lane one, placed second and were informed of the school record much later.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said by phone. “I was so determined after blowing it in my open event that nobody was gonna pass me. Everybody ran the very best they could that day.”

Idaho Falls High School track athletes Lori Higley and Helene Willsey pictured in a spring 1978 news clipping from the Post Register. Photo courtesy of Helene Willsey Johnson

Current I.F. 400 runners Kaila Smith (senior), Danielle Klaass (sophomore) and Noe Coughenour (junior) expressed their own disbelief upon hearing the school record time and how old it was at a recent track practice.

“We haven’t run it a whole lot,” Smith said of the 4×400. “Everyone would have to run like a 1:02ish (to match it).”

Baldwin, a junior in 1978, was aware the record still stood because she has seen her picture next to where I.F.’s record board used to be. She said the record’s age amuses her kids.

“I would always show my kids …’There I am,’” Baldwin said by phone. “I never thought it would hold this long.”

The record occurred in an era when sanctioned high school sports for girls were relatively new. In 1972, the year Title IX was passed, Johnson got her start in the citywide sixth grade track meet. She later became a member of I.F.’s first girls cross-country team and made I.F.’s track team as a freshman, the only Clair E. Gale Junior High athlete dismissed early to go to the high school. Johnson said she remembers Ravsten’s 440-yard dirt track being replaced with a rubberized asphalt 400-meter track and competing in school issued zippered polyester P.E. clothes because girls track uniforms didn’t exist yet.

While volunteering at the 1975 Idaho state meet at Ravsten, Johnson realized she wanted to become an official. Now in her 13th season as a USA Track and Field certified official and one of two female starters in Utah, Johnson said she is grateful to give back to the sport that put her in I.F.’s record books.

“I’m also humbled in a way, being able to pioneer track and make it what it is today and open up some of the opportunities for the young women out there,” Johnson said. “It taught me how to be a team player and it also taught me how to push myself as an individual and set goals.”

Members of the 1977-78 Idaho Falls High School girls cross-country team pictured in the 1978 edition of the Idaho Falls High School yearbook, The Spud. Left to right: Angie Tomchak, Kerrie Pinder, Maureen Feeley, Renee Howell and Helene Willsey. Photo courtesy of Museum of Idaho

For Baldwin, track followed basketball, her true passion which introduced her to her husband, Donnie, and allowed her to compete in college. A teacher at Bonneville High School, Baldwin has coached various sports and, like Johnson, credits her experiences as a high school athlete for helping her become who she is now.

“Definitely what I did in high school is what I’ve loved through my life,” Baldwin said. “At least with me, it made me know I could accomplish hard things.”

 

 

Oldest track records at the three other city schools

Skyline

Girls: Shot put (46-4) and discus (148-7) by Lisa White in 1988

Boys: 400 meters (48.98) and 200 meters (22.00) by John Canale, 1996

Bonneville

Girls: 400 (59.1) by Jennifer Toombs, 1,600 (5:16.2) and 3,200 (11:48.2) by Liz Humpherys, long jump (17-0) by Monica Bush, 4×200 (1:45.2). All these records were set in 1989

Boys: Shot put (52-6) by Paul Jaynes in 1984

Hillcrest

Girls: Triple jump (37-5.75) by Ginger Powell in 1999

Boys: High jump (6-6) by Chip Langerak in 1994

A glimpse into spring 1968 and 1978

-No. 1 song on Billboard Hot 100 in March 1968 was Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding and the No. 1 selling albums in April and May were The Graduate soundtrack and Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel (Billboard.com).

-2001: A Space Odyssey was leading the box office in April 1968 and ended up being the top grossing film of the year

-The average price of gas in 1968 was 34 cents per gallon, movie tickets were $1.50 and federal minimum wage was $1.60 (thepeoplehistory.com)

-MLB’s 1968 opening day was delayed due to MLK’s assassination.

-Disco dominated the charts in spring 1978: Saturday Night Fever soundtrack surpassed Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” as the No. 1 selling album in January, Andy Gibb’s “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” was the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 song in early March and the Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” was No. 1 from late March to early May.

-Average price of gas in 1978 was 63 cents per gallon

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