“The Class A and State Record is 14 Flat Set by Tom Dakin of Whitefish Bay in 1962.”
Anybody who attended the State Track Meet from 1965 to 1979 heard PA announcer Bill Cross blast out those memorable words in that unique, booming voice. Bill had been the Bay’s head track coach from 1958 to 1964 and he always gave announcing Tom Dakin’s record some extra zoomph.
Long ago, I had the good fortune to ask Bill Cross about Tom Dakin and commented about that zoomph. Bill smiled broadly and said “This state has not seen another hurdler like Tom Dakin. His form was perfect. There wasn’t anything that could be done to improve it.” I then asked about the conditions when the 14.0 was run, thinking maybe there was a 30 mph wind at Tom’s back or something, since typical State Meet winning times in the years since have been much slower, not even close. Bill said “It was run on a cinder track and it was against what wind there was. He was that good.”
So how good is “that good”?
The mid-1960’s was a golden era in Wisconsin high school track and field. The Class A State Meet moved to Monona Grove in 1963, with its new state-of-the-art Grass-Tex surface. Records in all events were shattered by 1966. Except for one. Any guesses? That’s right, the 120 High Hurdles. Not only was Dakin’s 14.0 never broken, there were only a couple of 14.2’s run, with 14.3 to 14.5 being a typical State Meet winning time. And all of those marks were run on much faster tracks.
The 14.0 was never close to broken and remained the State record until the switch to meters was made in 1980. I cannot think of a superlative that does the 14.0 justice.
The State Record at 36″ was 14.1, first set by Al Dockery of Madison Central in 1947 and tied by Gene Dix of Marshfield in 1960. So in the second year after the switch to 39″, Dakin ran a time better than anything ever run at 36″ in State Meet history. That is absolutely insane.
Some version of this 1962 State Meet wire service photo was printed in newspapers throughout the state. Assuming that’s the judges stand for the 100 Yard Dash in the background, this was the final hurdle. Bill Genszler of Sheboygan North had tied the State record of 14.4 (set by Dakin in 1961) in the trials, and had also finished second to Dakin the year before. That’s a rather large lead over a guy who ran fast enough to win the State title in most years.
When the switch from yards to meters came in 1980, the WIAA made the unfortunate decision to throw its first 85 years of running event history in the trash and started over with its records for running events. Fortunately, and to its credit, the Whitefish Bay track and field program understood that what happened in the past mattered and recognized converted times as records.
There is no conversion for times run in the 120 Yard High Hurdles to the 110 Meter High Hurdles. Or, more accurately, there is a conversion and it is 0. The event is the same distance.
The Wisconsin State record as I type this is 14.04 from 2014, run at the La Crosse Speedway where massive sprinting and hurdling PR’s are handed out like cotton candy at the county fair. Comparing the 14.0 run on cinders to the 14.04 run on a state-of-the art surface over 50 years later gets murky. Dakin’s 14.0 was hand-timed vs. FAT (automatic) timing, first introduced at the State Meet in 1979. A recognized convention is to add .24 to hand-times. I don’t agree with that in general and certainly not in this case. Nobody knows what the FAT time would have been at the 1962 State Meet. The best, experienced timers anticipated the smoke, so adding anything, much less a full .24, is guesswork at best.
Another issue when comparing hand to automatic times is that the convention in the hand-time era was to always round up to the nearest tenth. 10 second face watches were the standard and you could easily tell the time to the nearest hundredth or two. So Dakin’s time was 14.0 at the worst and could be anywhere from 13.91 to 14.00.
Some additional background on Dakin’s senior outdoor season is that he only competed in three meets. Sectionals, State and then Suburban. He had a sore back early in the outdoor season, so only the end-of-season meets were in the cards.
Here are some State Meet previews:
When they were in the blocks for the State 120 High Hurdle final, Dakin was in no way the favorite. As said before, Bill Genzsler of Sheboygan North had tied Dakin’s 14.4 State record from 1961 in the trials and had to be the favorite.
I believe the sore back caused Tom to not only not win the State title in the 180 Low Hurdles (he finished third), but prevented him from breaking the State record in that event as well, due to not being in peak shape. No worries on the record front from a Bay team perspective, however, since the great Paul Priebe took care of that in 1965 and Howie Zien permanently put it to rest in 1966.
At the Suburban Conference meet at Hart Park the week after State, Tom proved the State Meet wasn’t a fluke, winning the Highs in 14.2.
And he ran a fine 19.5 in winning the 180 Low Hurdles. 19.7 had won at State the week before. The State record at the time was 19.6.
Tom Dakin ended his Bay career with the back-to-back State titles with State record times, as well as three third place finishes at State. He was third in the High Hurdles as a sophomore in 1960 and finished third in the Lows as a junior and senior. The High Hurdles is a tough, physical, technical event. Sophomores even getting to State in the High Hurdles, much less getting to the final and placing high, is not a common thing and is in itself an indicator of supreme quality.
And, yeah, he was good at the Suburban level as well. Dakin won a staggering 11 individual Suburban titles and added with two relays gives him 13 total, which is third in Suburban Conference history. The 11 individual titles is tied at the top with Jerry Casey of Greendale and Art Sanders of Wauwatosa West. Missing the Suburban Relays as a senior likely cost Tom two relays wins, and maybe a win in the High Jump, where his PR was at least 6-1 3/8. He is one of six athletes to pull off a Suburban Triple — three individual titles at the Suburban Indoor or Outdoor.
Along with Bay classmate Brian Bergemann, Tom went to Wisconsin. He suffered a catastrophic knee injury in November of his freshman year. Completely torn ligaments above and below the knee in his lead leg and not repairable with early-1960’s surgical techniques if he wanted to continue to compete or possibly even walk comfortably. So Tom strengthened the muscles around the knee to the point where they could hold the knee joint in place and resumed competing. Are you kidding me?
Unbelievably, Tom won the Big Ten Indoor 70 Yard High Hurdles as a sophomore in 1964 and then finished second in the 120 Yard High Hurdles (42″) at the Big Ten Outdoors the same year.
I can still hear the pain and sorrow in the voice of Bill Cross when he said that Tom Dakin wasn’t close to being the same athlete after the injury. We’ll never know what Tom could have accomplished. He competed well at times his junior and senior seasons, but battled various injuries and didn’t, to my knowledge, place again at a Big Ten meet.
I don’t know much about Tom’s life. I do know that he lived in New York City and have heard rumors that he was 1) an executive at a New York advertising agency and 2) a dancer. If there is a God in heaven, both are true.
Tom was inducted into the Wisconsin Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013.
What Bill Cross said a long time ago — that Tom Dakin is the greatest hurdler this state has ever seen — is still absolutely true in 2020.
Tom Dakin is one of the truly great athletes in the history of Whitefish Bay High School. Maybe the best.