The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 6, 2013

Harold Raker's track and field column: So long old friends


Daily Item

---- — After he lost his bid for governor of California (after also losing the presidential race to John F. Kennedy), future commander in chief the late Richard M. Nixon told reporters, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

Over the years, perhaps no Valley sport event was kicked around any more than Shamokin High's Purple and White Relays.

It had nothing to do with the competition; it just seemed that the brainchild of former Indians' boys coach Sam Weaver was jinxed by Mother Nature.

Perhaps the track organizers ticked off Punxsutawney Phil (who I believe is currently under protective custody).

The relays, fairly or not, just got that kind of reputation. People would check the date of the event before planning any early-spring activities. If it fell on trout season, you could hear the fishermen cursing under their breath.

One year, as runners were headed down the backstretch of the track, a heavy snow squall popped up, making for a great newspaper photo, but less than ideal conditions for the athletes.

It often reminded me of a late fall day at Beaver Stadium, where one could experience all four seasons in one afternoon.

Oh, you're asking the point of all this. Sorry for digressing.

Citing financial concerns, Shamokin officials before the start of the season cancelled this year's Purple and Whites. To make matters worse for track and field traditionalists, Mount Carmel just this week cancelled the annual Jerry Breslin Relays, which were closing in on 50 years at the venerable Silver Bowl.

Those relays, originally scheduled for April 26, were renamed for legendary Red Tornadoes coach, the late Jerry Breslin in the mid-1980s.

Both schools' athletic directors, Shamokin's Rick Kashner and Mount Carmel's Greg Sacavage noted the decline of participating teams in recent years, with more venues (and newer facilities) available.

Kashner said only six and a half teams (Hazleton was only bringing girls) had planned to participate in this year's Purple and Whites, an event that in its glory years drew as many as 18 teams with athletes representing as many as 30 schools.

"With (less money from) entry fees and paying workers and officials, we would have ended up losing money," Kashner said of what would have been the 33rd annual P&W.

In the early days, when no other Valley teams had all-weather tracks, there was no trouble enticing schools. Now, there are so many more venues, the ADs said.

Kashner noted that teams want to compete in the upcoming Susquehanna University Invitational because they will run the District 4 meet there this year.

Added Sacavage, "Teams want to go to invitationals, not relays, because they want to get the best times they can possibly get, which means better lanes and the best heats for districts, and a better chance to get out of districts to states."

Mount Carmel is still holding its invitational, on April 20, but renaming it the Jerry Breslin Invitational.

"We didn't want to leave Jerry's name out, because he was synonymous with track at the school and throughout the state," Sacavage said.

Whether the relays will return is not certain, he said.

Meanwhile, Shamokin, which, unlike its neighbor to the east, had just one annual event, is looking at bringing something back next season. Kashner said, "We are looking at options for next year to bring something back, but it may change to an invitational instead of relays. That's definitely one option."

So, as regional universities and high schools add events and draw oodles of athletes to their modern venues, old-time fans of track and field can only smile and relive the memories of what were once the only games in town.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school track and field. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.