Yankton's Madison Dangler clears the bar during the high jump competition at the Junior High Relays on Saturday at Williams Field.

BY JAMES D. CIMBUREK james.cimburek@yankton.net

Ten records fell at Yankton’s Junior High Relays, held Saturday at Williams Field.

Those could stand for a very long time.

The Yankton School District has several cuts on the table, should the proposed opt-out not be approved by voters later this month. Among those are the cuts of all middle school athletic programs. With no middle school track program to participate, the 61st Junior High Relays would be the last.

The meet became part of Yankton’s track and field scene on May 15, 1951, the brainchild of then-YHS coach and athletic director Lars Overskei, South Dakota State track star Fran Horacek and former Press & Dakotan sports editor Don Bierle.

“It was our desire,” Bierle said for a column written by former Press & Dakotan columnist Hod Nielsen, “that we do what we could to give the young athletes an opportunity to compete. They all loved to run foot races, to jump and to throw things, all of those things that were time-honored tests of speed, strength and agility, they were born with that competitive urge.”

That first meet featured 13 area schools, and has hosted as many as 40 schools during its history. This year, 14 schools of a variety of sizes competed. There were bigger programs: Norfolk and South Sioux City, Neb., Mitchell, Brandon Valley, Harrisburg, Vermillion, Dakota Valley, Canton and, of course, Yankton. The meet also included smaller programs: Freeman Academy, Irene-Wakonda, Gayville-Volin, Bon Homme and Alcester-Hudson.

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Over the years, the event has been a launching pad for a number of area athletes. A good example of this came five years ago.

Dakota Valley’s Cameron Carter and Matt Lupkes were among the winners that day. Carter is playing football for Army, while Lupkes and one of his relay teammates that day, Zach Sexton, helped the Panthers set a meet record in the 800 relay at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays Saturday.

Another record-setter that day, Menno’s April Winne, would finish her prep career as a multi-sport standout at Scotland and is now a two-sport competitor at Mount Marty College.

The Yankton eighth grade boys’ 1600 relay squad that set a record five years ago included three athletes who are now competing in track and field for the University of South Dakota: Jeff Grossenburg, Travis Brenner and Alex Hohenthaner. The fourth, Tyler Carda, also had a solid prep career for YHS. The record they broke was set by another Yankton foursome who left their mark on YHS athletics: Jon Williams, Sean Fitzsimmons, Tate Pesicka and Alan Engebretson.

Another current USD runner, Megan Hilson, won the 400 and 800 that day.

Going back two more years, the likes of current SDSU running back Tyrel Kool and current USD track standout Ashlea Johnson were record-setters for Yankton at the meet. Katie Wagner, now a pitcher at Black Hills State, swept the throws events. Brad Anderson, Jade Steinberg, Kristin Sternhagen and Elly Smith — all of whom had outstanding distance careers for YHS — were winners that day.

In 2001, records were set by the likes of Ramsey Kavan, Mason Vig, Travis Devine, Sarah Herrboldt, Emily Witte, and Gerry Ebel. All of them had great careers for YHS, and several of them had great collegiate careers, as well.

The opportunity to compete in a big meet was something appreciated by the youngsters who had the chance.

“Running in it was fun, and it was usually nice weather, plus you got to show off the crowd,” said Yankton grad Jayna Specht in a story on last year’s meet.

“We always looked forward to beating everyone,” she added jokingly.

Not only would the loss of the Junior High Relays affect those kids who would have had the opportunity to compete, but it could impact the varsity teams in the future, too.

“If we don’t have middle school track, our track program is over,” said former Yankton track coach Jim Miner. “For middle school kids, that was their ‘state championship.’ We bring in kids from all over, and it was the best competition for the middle school kids by far.

“It gives them something to really look forward to.”