In 1948 LeRoy Collins of Green Bay East became the first WIAA athlete to run the 440 in under 50 seconds at the State Meet, turning in a 49.5 at Camp Randall. The number of sub-50’s run in the years directly after at any Wisconsin high school meet were few and far between. And no wonder. Over 70 years later 49.x and 50.x are still elite performances. The fastest State Meet winning time during the 1950’s was 50.4. The 49.5 remained the State record for a staggering 18 years. In 1966 Monroe junior Mark Winzenried skipped right on through the 48’s by running 47.8 in the Class B State Meet at Delavan-Darien. The next week Jim Schmidt of Milwaukee Bay View set a new Class A record with a 49.3 at Monona Grove.
Jim Schmidt and LeRoy Collins at Monona Grove in 1966.
Meanwhile, in the early years the Bay didn’t have a particularly distinguished group of quarter-milers. Through the 1940’s they had guys here and there who would run 53’s, and those were very competitive times for the era. The rules of the time may have played a part in this. There was no Mile Relay, so developing quarter-milers may simply have been less of a priority.
Trying to sort out a Bay school record progression prior to the 1950’s is a fool’s errand that not even I am crazy enough to futz around with. In 1952 we get some clarity when Bay senior Gary Winske set the Class B State Record with a 51.8 and followed it up a week later with a Suburban Outdoor record of 51.5.
Five-Time State Champion sprinter Bill Eichfeld and Gary Winske at Camp Randall in 1952.
This is my best guess at the Bay 440 school record progression from Winske through 1967:
1952 51.5 Gary Winske
1959 51.5 Ross Dean
1961 51.3 Gary Gerlach
1962 50.9 Tom Leiser
1963 50.8 Tom Leiser
Ross Dean is the oldest of the Dean Dynasty. He was 1st team All-Suburban in football and 2nd team in basketball. Simply a great athlete. Rich (1965) and twins Rob and Randy (1973) were also great athletes. The Dean parents went 4 for 4 with a grand slam thrown in there. The younger three were All-Suburban in football and were excellent, tough-nosed, basketball players.
Gary Gerlach was All-Suburban in football and a multi-year starter on some great basketball teams. He was also a good hurdler in addition to being a great long sprinter. He graduated from Wisconsin in 1965, became an attorney and was a judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court for over 20 years.
Tom Leiser is one of the great athletes in Bay history, received an appointment to the Naval Academy and scored the only Navy touchdown in the 1964 Army-Navy game.
“I can still see [Staubach], before the play, signaling to the coach on the sidelines,” Leiser said. “Using his finger, Roger wrote in the air a ’25’ [the play number]. I got a clean handoff and, hoping for spiritual guidance, dove over the pile.”
Tom later served in Vietnam. He was a commander of 15 river boats in the Mekong Delta and survived a helicopter crash into a canal in 1971. Tom’s Navy Service Awards bio indicates that he has a top notch sense of humor. And also one hell of a service record. Look at this stuff.
Ron Vick was a classmate of Leiser’s, and ran some fast times, but was just a shade off as far as I know. Ron ran a fine 51.1 in winning the Suburban Outdoor in 1963. He went to Tulsa, where his 440 PR was 47.5. I would be stunned to find that any Bay alum ran faster than that in college.
A contemporary of both Gerlach’s and Tom Leiser’s was Jim Waisman, who was in the class of 1962. Waisman had a great career and could well factor in here, but I can’t find anything that definitively shows him running a school record time.
In 1968 Bay junior Jim Just had an excellent track season. He ran legs on the winning 440 and Mile Relay teams at the Suburban Relays. Jim followed that up by winning the Suburban Outdoor 220 in a pouring rain at West Allis Hale two weeks later. For the State series, the Bay elected to run Jim in the 440 and Mile Relay, with both qualifying for State at the Sectional held at Milwaukee’s North Stadium.
I’m not aware of Jim having run any open 440’s during the season, but I assume he probably did at a dual meet or two. My guess is that the 51.0, just off the Bay school record, was Jim’s PR, but again, I don’t know that for sure.
Then at the State Meet at Monona Grove, with the Class A record being 49.3 and the State record being 49.5 just two years before, Jim ran 49.5 — and didn’t place. You’ve got to be kidding me. He placed sixth, just out of the money. That is a bad beat. What would be a poker analogy? Being dealt two aces, sitting in fourth after the flop and drawing dead going into the river? Cripes.
Like the other 440 school record holders, Jim was an outstanding all-around athlete. All-Suburban in football his senior year as well as being a three-year starter.
Jim then had a blockbuster 1969 track season.
The Suburban Indoor didn’t set up well individually for Jim or the Bay in this era (or 1961-1963) because there was no 220 or 440 on the card, if you can believe it. The 440 was finally added in 1972. These total absurdities cost the Bay the three team Suburban indoor titles from 1971 to 1973, as well as 1961. Anyway, Jim ran on the winning 6 Lap and Mile Relay teams at Waukesha.
At the Suburban Relays, Jim ran on the winning 440 and 880 Relay teams, leading the Bay to the team title. At the Suburban Outdoor, Jim was a double-winner, copping the 440 and 220 titles.
An alert observer might notice a new name in those results — Jim’s freshman brother Jerry, who had a pretty good meet himself by winning the 100 and tying the Suburban record in the trials running 10.0. Jerry’s career is a topic for another day, assuming the host for this site has enough bandwith to do it justice. Jerry ran 10.0 several more times during his career, which converts to 10.90 for 100 meters. That compares fairly well to the Bays current 100 meter school record of 10.93.
Back to the action.
Something to keep in mind is that in this era the 440 was run in boxes at many meets, with the Suburban Outdoor among them. That’s a remnant of the older tracks having just four lanes all the way around. So three or four guys would share two lanes through the first turn and then it was a total free-for-all scrum from there to the finish, with not much time to correct a tactical mistake or getting boxed. In the picture above there’s bodies all over the place at the finish, including Bay junior Bob Berge (son of long-time Bay math teacher Walter Berge), who finished third. And here’s a description of the race:
1969 was the first year of added Regionals qualifying before Sectionals. The Bay was in a very tough sprinting Sectional, as it was for just about all of the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Jim qualified for State in the 220 and the Bay 880 Relay also got through.
1969 was also the first year of the two-day State Meet that required trials and finals in the relays. An extra race doubles the chances of some goofball thing happening with the baton. And the weather for the 880 Relay trials was terrible — pouring rain, so conditions could not have been worse. There were no thunderstorms in the area, so running events continued, although field events were totally messed up with delays, stopping, starting and stopping again.
The Bay 880 Relay did what they had to do, not only getting through to the final, but also running a superb time for the conditions — 1:30.6, which led the qualifying. The Bay felt going in that they had a good chance at the State title, but you never know how the competition stacks up until you get there. Jim Just was also one of the six qualifiers for the 220 final.
The weather on Saturday was terrible again with driving rain, but the Bay cut through it to win the State title with another fine time for the conditions — 1:31.1.
Jim provided some icing on the cake by finishing fifth in 220. And Paul Shedivy’s fifth in the 180 Low Hurdles gave the Bay its eighth point, leading to a sixth place team finish.
Jim’s 10 Suburban titles slots him in as 9th in conference history. The leader is Jerry Just, with a phenomenal 16.
At this time there were two school records for the 220 — one for the race being run on a straight and the other using the curve. The record for the straight was 22.0 by Ron Vick in 1961, with my guess being it occurred at the Suburban Outdoor. The record for the curve was 22.2 by Jim Just in 1969. I don’t know where the 22.2 was run or which meet. Those two times converted to 200 meters are 21.9 and 22.1. They compare favorably with the current Bay school record of 21.91.
A characteristic of the 1969 Bay State title 880 Relay team that I’m guessing was unique in State history to that point was its class makeup:
Freshman: Jerry Just
Sophomore: Tom Ebert
Junior: Bob Berge
Senior: Jim Just
If not unique, it certainly couldn’t have happened often, especially in Class A. But then it happened again the very next year. Which team? That’s right, you’re on top of it, Whitefish Bay.
Freshman John Kearns stepped right in and ran the lead-off on the 1970 State title 880 Relay team. And they set a new State record of 1:29.2 (the Bay as a team had been in a massive three-year drought without setting a State record). And they did it out of lane 1.
Having John Kearns walk through the door as a freshman the year after Jerry Just should have driven the rest of the Suburban Conference to drink. It simply wasn’t fair. In addition to what happened at State, John ran on champion 440 and 880 Relay squads at the Suburban Relays and on the winning 880 Relay at the Suburban Outdoor.
John developed through his sophomore year, chalking up two more wins at the Suburban Relays. He capped off his sophomore season by running the lead-off leg on the second Bay Mile Relay team to run 3:21.1 at the State Meet, they had done it the year before, as well. Other members of those two teams were Bob Berge and Tom Ebert in 1970, Chris Mortonson in 1971 and Todd Weir and Jerry Just in both years. That converts to a 3:20.0 1600 Relay for those of you keeping score at home. No Bay Mile or 1600 Relay teams in the subsequent 49 years have been in the same
zip code, area code, country universe as those two teams. And if Tom Ebert hadn’t gotten hurt in 1971, they could well have run 3:20.x and set the State record.
And then Kearns kept getting better in his junior season. He burst onto the State scene by winning the 440 over a strong field at the legendary Monona Grove Invitational.
Then he broke the long-time 440 Suburban Outdoor record, running 50.2. The previous record of 50.6 had first been set in 1957 by legend Jerry Casey of Greendale and tied by Jerry Just in 1971.
Jerry Just pulled a muscle during the first meet of the 1972 outdoor season. He came back later in the season, but was never 100%. We’ll never know what a healthy Jerry Just head-to-head match-up with John Kearns would have been. It’s no done deal that Just would have been better than Kearns, but it would have undoubtedly driven John to be even better and he was damn good as it was. If anybody reading this has for rent or sale access to a time travel machine where history can be altered, see the Contact link. I’m your guy.
Here are the 1972 State Meet 440 results. Kearns’ time is a typo. It was 50.0. Just finished fourth.
And then in the Mile Relay, the Bay finished an agonizing second for the third consecutive year, running 3:24.8 to Racine Case’s 3:24.4.
And then John Kearns got even better in 1973, having a monster season on a par with any season in Bay track history.
Two wins at the Suburban Indoor.
Then three wins at the Suburban Relays, leading the Bay to a long-overdue Suburban championship — they’d gone two full years without one and it was weighing on everybody. Bill Taylor and Estil Strawn also had great meets, obviously. Harri Fagerlund (an AFS student from Finland) and Jon Ebert, as well.
And one more win for John Kearns at the Suburban Outdoor, along with a stunning loss in the 440. The loss was a bad news-good news thing for the Bay in that the guy who beat John was Bay sophomore Bill Taylor. And it took a Suburban Conference record to do it.
The Bay had some bitter, crazy team losses to Waukesha and both Wauwatosa schools in Suburban meets in 1971 and 1972 and the 1973 Outdoor was a dogfight to the finish. The Bay had used all of their sprint bullets in the open events and 880 Relay, so it was down to some other guys to get the Bay across the finish line to a much-coveted team title. Sophomore Mike Doyle stood tall when it was desperately needed with a fourth in an absolutely loaded Two-Mile field and senior Pat Harper won the Pole Vault to give the Bay the points they needed to win the title.
Unfortunately, Bill Taylor strained a muscle late in the Suburban 440, so the Bay had to come up with a Plan B for the Regionals and Sectionals. Taylor didn’t run in either (and it was in no way clear that Bill could run at State) meet, but the Bay was able to get both relay teams through to State. And John Kearns in the 440.
The 49.3 broke the school record set by Jim Just five years earlier.
Then John Kearns became the first and only Bay athlete to win the Class A 440 (or 400 meters) at the State Meet.
The whole stretch run John led by a foot or two. Never more, never less. It was an amazing race.
The Bays State team title hopes were gone by the time the gun went off for the Mile Relay. Coupled with the Bay finishing second in the Mile Relay each of the previous three years and three seniors running their last race, emotions were running high. All of the Mile Relay heats the night before were closely contested. So Bay coach Earl Zamzow decided to make a daring move by pulling Kearns off his customary anchor spot and have him lead off in hopes of getting the Bay out of the muck and into some clean air. Bill Taylor flipped to anchor, with Estil Strawn and Rob Dean running their customary second and third legs.
Nobody who saw the 1973 Class A Mile Relay final will ever forget it. The temperature was well over 90 degrees and the wind was 20-30 mph directly against the finish straight (earlier in the meet 10.4 had won the Class A 100). Kearns got the Bay off to a lead, but there was only so long that was going to last. The Bays Rob Dean took four teams packed into a sardine can into the first turn of the third leg. Milwaukee West was one of the favorites in the race, but all of a sudden the Comets baton flew into the air and way out of the track area as if it had been kicked like a field goal. The baton may, or may not, have been helped on its way by an inadvertent elbow from Rob Dean.
Bay sophomore Bill Taylor took the baton for the anchor leg in third behind Racine Case and Beloit. Bill passed Beloit to get into second heading into the final turn, thought about passing Racine Case for the lead, but decided to chill in second through the turn. He then passed Racine Case on the final stretch and may or may not have held off a furious late charge from Beloit’s Jim Caldwell (later head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions). What did the judges see?
Sometimes the good guys win one.
The winning time of 3:24.6 (3:23.5 converted) was in no way impressive, and was way off the 3:21.1 run in 1970 and 1971, and the 3:22.0 run in 1972. Nobody cares.
The Bay finished second as a team at State for the second straight year.
John Kearns ended his Bay career as a three-time State champion, State record holder, three seconds at State and Bay school record holder in four events. His 12 Suburban titles have been topped by just four others in conference history.
The 49.3 by John Kearns and the 49.5 by Jim Just have held up very well in Bay track history. Those times convert to 49.0 and 49.2 for the 400 meters. Close to 50 years later the Bay school record is 49.03.
Bay track royalty.