Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Memories of the UW/WSU dual track & field meet (part 2)...

For outsiders to fully comprehend the meaning of the Washington/Washington State dual track and field meet, one must have some knowledge of long time WSU head coach John Chaplin (left/photo courtesy Washington State University).

During his tenure as head coach, Chaplin guided WSU to the top of the Pacific-10 Conference, as witnessed by WSU’s three straight conference titles from 1983-85, and three consecutive second place finishes at the NCAA Championships during the 1980’s, plus another Pac-10 title and NCAA runner-up finish in 1991.

Chaplin guided the Cougars to five straight undefeated dual meet seasons (1981-85) and nine overall in 21 years, plus the mythical dual meet championship six times.

WSU, under Chaplin’s guidance, repeatedly finished in the first division in the Pacific-10 Conference and the top 10 in the NCAA standings in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field. His 1977 indoor squad captured the NCAA team title, the first and only official NCAA title in the school’s history.

Chaplin coached Cougar teams won 202 of 217 dual meets, a near-perfect winning percentage of .931.

After retiring from Washington State, he became active within USA Track & Field, and was the head men's coach for the US Olympic track team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In his 21-season tenure as head track coach at Washington State from 1974 to 1994, Chaplin compiled an impressive 21-1 dual meet record against the Huskies. In the eyes of many Husky track athletes and supporters, just the mere mention of his name evoked reactions ranging from rolling eyes to blunt, no holds barred expletives.

In 1981, I was in the WSU training room at Bohler Gym waiting on triple jumper Kevin Turner and another Husky athlete receiving treatment from our team trainer, when Chaplin, who had a reputation as a bit of a motormouth, plopped himself onto a treatment table and said loudly, “We’re kicking your ass today”, after which he picked himself off the table, and walked out of the room.

All of us looked at each other as if to say, “He did not just say that!” and “Thanks for telling us the obvious”, given that his team was loaded with world-class talent, and had beaten the UW earlier that season in Seattle 98-65.

Though Washington still lost in Pullman 91-72, Chaplin’s comment fired up several members of the Huskies, particularly those who ran poorly against the Cougars in the earlier meeting in Seattle that season.

During a break at the USA Track & Field convention in Reno in December, I reminded Chaplin of his antics in Pullman, to which he put his arm around me in fatherly fashion and said, “I was only trying to get into your heads.”

Washington distance runner Jim McKay, a member of the 1990 team that lost to the Cougars 110-53 in Pullman, recalls that Chaplin took on the dual role of coach and check in clerk that year, presumably because they were short on officiating help on a May day which McKay said was 18 degrees and snowing.

“One funny memory is John Chaplin checking everyone in. I've never seen an opposing head coach take on those duties - especially such a high profile head coach. He made funny little disparaging comments to everyone. He hardly took a breath to let you tell him your name. I think he was trying to psych us out.”

If there was one common theme about Chaplin’s modus operandi when it came time for the UW/WSU dual meet, it was the fact that he wasn’t about to let the Huskies get one over him and his team.

Jody Page, a hurdler on one of Chaplin’s final teams said, “Chaplin made me cancel surgery to have my tonsils out to compete the WSU/UW dual meet. He said he hadn't lost to UW in 25 years & wasn't taking any chances.” (editor’s note—don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story).

“I competed in the 110m HH, 100m, long jump, 4 x 100m & 4 x 400m that week. It was the most physically demanding meet I ever competed in & was the first time in my track career that I felt like I was part of a team & tradition. We won the meet & while there were much larger ones I competed in that was the performance I was most proud of in my career at WSU.”

Next, we let the athletes take over with their tales of this in-state rivalry.

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