Saturday, April 19th, 2014
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Marion Local's Spectacular included top track teams
Last Curtain Call
  The late Jim Hoess had a vision in the mid-1960s that within a few years developed into one of the premier early-season track and field happenings in Ohio.
Mention the "Spectacular" to former track athletes and coaches and be ready for the flood of stories which begin to flow about the annual event at Marion Local which unfolded this time of the season from 1967 until 1980. Hoess, who was the Flyers' head track and field coach at the time, organized the first meet in 1967 in which 11 teams from within 100 miles headed to Maria Stein for what would become the first of more than a dozen Spectacular outings through the years.
"That was all Jim Hoess' idea from the start," Urban Berning, whose colorful public address commentary at Marion Local meets was most times as entertaining as the meets themselves, recalled. "Jim was a bachelor and had all kinds of time to work on coaching and everything associated with track. Oftentimes when the school didn't have money, he would purchase equipment with his own money. He did a wonderful job in getting the Spectacular underway."
The meet was unlike any of its kind in the area at the time and depending on the weather, was a two-day event which kicked off with the Flyer Invitational on either a Saturday or Wednesday in the middle of April. While the Invitational was a track meet in and of itself, it also determined qualifications for the Spectacular, which unfolded within the same week.
"There were plenty of times that the team that won the Flyer Invitational, didn't necessarily win the Spectacular, which made it interesting," Former Marion Local Pat Eking, said. "It was always a gamble with the weather too. You never knew what you were going to get. There were quite a few outstanding teams from all over Ohio which came to Maria Stein. Some of the runners from Yellow Springs could absolutely fly on the cinder track, and Arcanum always had strong teams as well. The meet was a lot of fun, especially when the weather was nice and the stands were packed full."
By the second year in 1968, the festivities vaulted to 22 teams and hovered near that mark for next decade. The boys from Arcanum dominated the early days of the meet by capturing titles from 1967-69, but after that Miami East, Benjamin Logan, and Twin Valley South shared the top honors from 1970-1972.
Another dynasty took over in 1973 when the Versailles Tigers won their first of three trophies, followed by Miami East once again in 1976. In 1977, Parkway proved that the results of the Invitational weren't always a precursor for the outcome of the Spectacular. The Panthers placed fifth in the Invitational but came out of nowhere to grab the Spectacular championship less than a week later.
Yellow Springs secured the crown in 1978 despite winning only three events. The Bulldogs always came in as one of the favorites, including in 1972 when they dominated the Flyer Invitational. Weather pushed the Spectacular back a few days and a school trip to New York forced the Bulldogs to miss out on their likely first-place trophy.
"At that time, running on a cinder track was all that we knew," Steve Blackburn, who was a two-time state-qualifier in the hurdles for Ansonia in 1968 and 1969 and later coached Franklin Monroe to a second-place finish at the event in 1974, explained. "Even the state meet had cinder tracks, which was top of the line at that time. It hurt when you kicked up a stone into the back of your leg, but not near as much as if you fell to the ground during a race! The Spectacular was always the meet that we really looked forward to attending because we knew we had the opportunity to meet so many great athletes from a lot of different schools that we never saw throughout the year."
Coldwater brought home back-to-back titles in 1979 and 1980, the second Midwest Athletic Conference School to take the crown in three years. Following the spring of 1980, however, the Spectacular was laid to rest, although Marion Local still held its annual invitational for a few more years.
"I can remember how weather was always a factor many of the years we held the event," Ken Meyer, who coached Marion Local's track team, said. "There were many times that we were lining the track one line at a time all day long with snow falling only to have the meet postponed and then we had to do it all over again. That aspect began to become very tough to keep it going."
While reflecting on the event's 14-year run, many folks still share special memories from their days in Maria Stein.
"I was a pretty good hurdler and one year, I hit a couple of hurdles during my race," Blackburn remarked. "After the race I commented how it didn't seem like they were the right distance apart, so they measured them and sure enough the gaps between were pretty far off. We re-ran the race and thankfully I ended up winning!"
In 1979, St. Henry's Tim Braun established his personal record in the discus with a heave of 160-2 at the Spectacular before capturing the Class A state title in the event a few months later.
"The Spectacular was always really neat because it was one of the first meets of the year and sort of like the Versailles Invitational today. It was against a lot of schools that you didn't go against throughout the year," he added. "I threw 160-feet for the first time in my career there when I was a senior, so it was definitely a fun meet for me, especially in 1979."
Meyer was in command at Marion Local during the meet's final breaths and explained it was difficult to let go of the annual occurrence.
"Near the end of the run in the early-1980s, more schools were getting all-weather tracks and getting ours ready just got to be too much," he pointed out. "We all agreed that the Spectacular was going to come to an end. That meet is still a very special memory for me though, as well as for the hundreds who participated in it over the years."
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