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Editor’s note: This is a continuing series of Eastern Iowa sports history “Time Machine” articles. Mark Dukes worked at The Gazette from 1973 to 1998, the last 14 years as sports editor.
Bill Calloway plotted the only path he could envision for his team to contend for the 1977 boys’ state track championship.
It took some imagination and some convincing on Calloway’s part for Cedar Rapids Washington to pull it off. And, a set of circumstances that not even the head coach could calculate.
Calloway, then 30 and in his second year as Washington’s coach, had a stable of stellar sprinters that spring. But as he thought about the Mississippi Valley Conference, district and state meets, individual events likely were not going to be enough to compete with the likes of Cedar Falls and Davenport Central.
“We were hanging our hats from way back on the three sprint relays,” Calloway said. “I told them midseason we have one chance to win state and that we had to be able to run the 4-by-4 (mile relay). Only two of the kids had run the quarter-mile before.”
Those two were Tom Shadid and Otto (O.C.) Moore. Varick Wilson and Dave Facion had to “buy in” and run a 440-yard leg in the last — and deciding — event of the state meet.
Washington earlier had scored six points as Peter Riley, the Drake Relays champion, finished third in the mile and Vernon Brown placed fifth in the 100-yard dash.
Washington suffered from bad exchanges and a dropped baton in the 440- and 880-yard relays at Drake, so improvement was imperative at the state meet. (1977 was the last year distances were measured in yards rather than meters).
The team of Wilson, Facion, Brown and Mark Williams complied by winning the 440 in 42.4. Then the 880 team of Wilson, Facion, Moore and Brown breezed to the title, setting a state record in 1:27.9.
“As it was playing out day two, we knew we had to win the (mile relay) to win the meet,” Calloway said. “Cedar Falls and Davenport Central had two of the best 400 runners in the state. We were the unknown because we hadn’t run a great time yet (fifth-best entering the meet).
“I had Varick on the end because he was a great competitor. Facion was the fastest runner I ever coached, but he didn’t want to anchor relays or run open events for some reason. Early in the season I stopped fighting it.”
Quarter-mile legs by Shadid and Moore kept the Warriors close in the meet’s final event. Then it was time for Facion and Wilson.
“Facion is the wild card. He had to run an unbelievable 400 to give us a chance,” Calloway said. “He’s running nice and smooth on the third leg and then comes around the final curve and it was like one of those ‘oh, my goodness’ moments. He stepped on it and opened up 20 yards on the field. Wilson was battling shoulder-to-shoulder with the Cedar Falls guy and Varick battled to the line and won.
“I find out years later that Facion had told one of our weight guys, Stanley Blakey, to stand at the top of the curve because ‘when I get there, I’m going to spin you around.’ From then on, I’ve used ‘Stanley Time’ with my teams.”
Asked what he remembered about the mile relay win, Wilson said, “I’d have to say the other three guys that ran before me, especially that third person. I was just trying not to give up the lead because I’ve never seen anybody faster than David.
“I was just trying to hold because I was running against the best quarter-miler in the state. My first thought was, did I lean quick enough to get it. In practice, I was just trying to keep up with the rest of the guys, and that helped me.”
With Washington winning the mile relay, Cedar Falls finishing second and Davenport Central third, observers believed Washington and Central had tied for the title with 36 points. However, Central’s anchor runner spiked his baton after crossing the finish line and Central was disqualified.
“Another thing about that was that going into the (mile relay), we had mis-figured the points slightly and Central had done the same thing,” Calloway said. “We mis-figured one place in the high jump for Central and they had made a mistake on our long jump. So they figured they had to get second in the relay, and we figured they had to get third.”
Calloway took over the Washington program in 1976 from Harold Wilkinson, a mentor to Calloway who had guided the Warriors to the 1975 state title. He also leaned on assistant coaches Dave Rosenberg and Randy Bates.
“The other thing I had going for me was Tom Ecker,” Calloway said. “He had coached Olympic teams (Sweden two years) and written many books on track and field. I was getting the latest information from Tom and that’s where I got into plyometrics, a training method the Russians and East Germans were using.”
Plyometrics, also known as “jump training,” is a series of exercises aimed at improving an athlete’s power and speed strength. Calloway still uses plyometrics today as the girls’ track coach at Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
“We used plyometrics throughout ’76 and ’77,” Calloway said. “We were discovering how important power was for the sprinters.”
Ultimately, everything aligned for Washington in 1977 — training methods, a game plan, execution by the athletes and a little good fortune.
“It really was very, very satisfying,” Calloway said, “Scripting something out in your mind doesn’t always work out. But I saw in my mind what we needed to do, got the kids to see it and they bought in.”
Wilson, who now lives in Minneapolis and works for a trucking company, plans to join his teammates for their 40th class reunion in early July. Yes, there will be stories.
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