Hilmer Lodge's Vision Made Mt. SAC Relays World Renowned
The Mt. SAC Relays, with events set for April 9 and April 16, has been a Walnut and worldwide track and field staple since 1959.
The account of the records set and broken since the starter gun kicked off the first Mt. SAC Relays event in 1959 reads like a who’s who of Olympic track greats.
Names like Carl Lewis, Mary Decker, Gail Devers and Maurice Green leap from the record pages, which might have been what Hilmer Lodge had in mind when he went to the Mt. San Antonio College’s Board of Trustees in 1959. Lodge proposed that the school construct a state of the art track and field facility inside of the campus’ existing stadium.
Lodge wanted the college to host a track and field event that would rival the Penn and Drake relays, according to the Mt. SAC Relays website. He also wanted to open doors for collegiate, post-graduate, club and women athletes, according to the website read.
On April 24 and 25 of 1959, the Mt. SAC Relays got out of the starting blocks in fine form with “Track and Field News” reportedly praising its “fist class performances in every event and excellent standards of achievement in all areas.”
With Lodge at the helm from 1959 to 1962, the event grew from 850 high school, community college, college and club athletes competing in 56 events to close to 3,000 athletes participating in 139 events, according to the website. That total number of participants was about the same as the city’s population at the time. In 1963, Lodge retired and moved to Pala, California with his wife Dorothy to work on his citrus ranch full time.
Track Coach Don Ruh took over the event for the next 24 years following Lodge’s retirement. The biggest hiccup in the Relays’ history came in 1978, when 22 inches of rain delayed construction of the new track and all events, except for the community college decathlon and marathon events were canceled. The Relays were to be dedicated to Lodge that year, as he had died in 1977.
In 1980, international history of a different sort was made at the Relays after a team from China agreed to meet with the one from Taiwan, a first since the two countries had separated 40 years earlier, according to the website.
By 1985, the Mt. SAC Relays had more than 9,000 competitors participating in 350 events in six days. That growth included the expansion of the Relays to include two Youth Days events. After the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, organizers founded the Amateur Athletic Foundation to promote track and field to youth. The foundation selected Mt. SAC to be its first grant recipient in 1986 and Youth Days was created. The most recent event took place Friday and Saturday. More than 250,000 athletes have participated in the program since its start.
In 1988, Dan Shrum took over for Ruh and Ernie Gregoire, the long-time Women’s Division Chairman became the executive director. The late Scott Davis became the event’s director in 1997, according to the website. Davis, who died in August, previously had been the assistant director and the Relays longtime announcer. He will be inducted into the Mt SAC Relays 2011 Hall of Fame on April 13.
Doug Todd, Mt. SAC’s director of Cross Country and Track and Field, became head of the Relays in 2006.
Since Lodge’s vision in the early days, the Relays have been the site of two Olympic trials, 20 world records and hundreds of national records.
The event returns to the aptly named Hilmer Lodge Stadium, with the Mt. SAC Community College Invitational on April 9, the Walnut/Mt. SAC High School Invitational April 15-16 and the Invitational Day of Champions April 16.