The B-Side: The Golden Era... Child Please! Part 1

Editor's note: Realizing that this subject may get touchy and thrown out of context, Milesplit and the author in no way places a personal attack on the athlete (s).

Golden Era - "The Period when a specific art or activity is at its peak"

In the article by Jeff Miller, The Nine Ways to Recognize a Golden Age, the very first rule was to "ignore predictions". "Those who predict one is coming are always wrong because a Golden Age can't be foreseen." The third rule is a big one. "A real Golden Age is not marked by a single endeavor". The seventh rule: 'one person cannot single-handedly transform a moment into a Golden Era, let alone sustain it.'

Ja'Mari Ward is the cream of the crowd in today's emerging sprints/jumps corps (Colin Boyle image)

Last Sunday I received a text from T. Jones about a hot topic which had become a debate. Plainfield North boys head coach and hall of famer Tony Holler, had recently said the times are not just great, the times were incredible and he was right. Kahmari Montgomery (Sr., Plainfield Central) has run a US #4 21.05 200 meters as well as Josh Eiker (Jr., Galesburg), a US #6 200 meters at 21.06. Cahokia has dropped a 41.31 and a 1:27.31 in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. Cahokia superstar Jamari Ward is still dominating the US in the long jump and triple jump.

The mistake that Coach Holler made was saying that we are entering the "Golden Age" of Illinois track and field in the sprints and jumps. Perhaps the nice weather we've had and the sunlight has caused some to lose their minds or perhaps some Illinois history has been tossed to the side and forgotten. I will chalk this up to forgotten history. Kahmari and Josh have run to the level we expected them to. They were both my picks before the indoor season, Top Times, and barring injury, will be your state champions in 2A and 3A. The weather has been very cooperative and that usually doesn't happen in Illinois this early in the season. This is why we are seeing these times. But the Golden Age.... as Ocho Cinco used to say, "Child Please".

All-Time IHSA greats Bob Jelks (left, Decatur Mac) and Frank Atwater (Rock Island) were instrumental in the 1980s 'Golden Era' (Jelks file photo)

The old school sprinters/jumpers are riled after hearing this. Depending on when you ran in high school, each decade or time frame can perhaps make a case that theirs was the best. I am saying without question, the 1980s and the sprints/jumps was the best PERIOD! I have decided to give to some a history lesson and to others, a reminder of the true golden age. The thing is, I will rarely use the whole decade, just the years I was in high school: '82-'86.

The first thing that was said as far as sprinters, was that this so-called golden age doesn't even have rounds to run at state. A sprinter would have two prelim races and two semis of the 100 and 200. If they were on the 4x1 and 4x2, both of those races. So, if you were elite and could advance? You're talking 6 races on say Friday and 4 on Saturday in the finals. In the heat! Today it's simple to make a final. One race, you come through and you're in. The second thing said, and this eliminates the debate altogether as far as I'm concerned, the qualifying times of 10.60/21.70. What does that mean for today's golden age? Let's just say admission would be a lot cheaper due to fewer events at the meet. There would be pages missing in your program. Currently, there would be only three runners qualify. And don't put them into classes, you wouldn't be able to fill up the lanes. In '86, if you couldn't stride these times, there was no reason to come to state.

The great sprinters from 1982 to 1986 are all over the all-time list (and granted the list isn't truly accurate because some names are missing from the current list). I will list a few to show you the sustained year after year greatness the 80's possessed (some marks were manual and wind-aided):

Mike Sawyer (Chicago St. Ignatius) '85- 20.9

Malcolm Davis (Chicago Mendel Catholic) '86- 21.10

Keith Thomas (Chicago Kenwood) '86- 21.10

Jarrett Cooper (Blue Island Eisenhower) '86- 21.10

The last three names were in the 200m final with me. It may be the toughest final in Illinois history. Oh I forgot yours truly ran 20.86 (twice in the regular season) and won state injured in 21.27 breaking the immortal Greg Foster's Proviso East state record. Maybe I should ask Wallace Spearmon of Blue Island Eisenhower (20.89h in 1980) for some assistance since he also ran in the 80s.

The 100 meters ... Child Please! Myself (1986) at 10.26 (crippled in the final), 10.2h at sectionals. Look at the all-time list. David Moore '86 Chicago Mendel, Keith Thomas '86 Kenwood, Albert Robinson (Hales Franciscan, '82), Kelly Reed '83 Kenwood, Rodney Harris '84 Providence St. Mel (Class A), Mike Sawyer '85 St. Ignatius, Joe Vernell '85 Proviso East, and Aaron Mayo '85 Bloom Trail. All at 10.30 or faster. That's just '82-86. What about Tony Anderson '81 Decatur MacArthur and Kevin Johnson '81 of Waukegan East? There are a lot more. I'm just showing that there was great sprinting and sustained champions not just two people carrying the load like Kahmari and Josh.

Ask yourself a question. If Kahmari and Josh get hurt (God forbid) and don't go to state, would this still be the so-called Golden Age?.. I'll wait.. Out of 28 names on the current all-time list, 11 are from the '80s. Eight (8) of those 11 are just from '82 to '86 (the '90s had 13).

Relays? You always wait until after state to decide on where a team is placed in history. There's too much that can happen. The '86 squad at Decatur MacArthur was ranked #1 in the state in the 4x2 with a 1:27.1 (in the rain) and never saw the track at EIU due to a uniform issue which resulted in a DQ at sectionals. So let's see how things shake out with Cahokia in the 4x1 and 4x2. One thing is certain, in 2A, Cahokia has no challenges in either race.

I wasn't even going to speak on the 400m but oh well, I'm on a roll. Kahmari is the only one who can get a lane in the Golden Age of the 400m. The 46.82 he laid down in 2014 harkened back to the days of the great quarter horses of the 80's. How about Harold Leonard (Chicago Mt. Carmel) 46.51 in '85, yeah '86 had one in Jim Cramton of Glenbard West. He was a monsta at 46.6, Sherman Arnold (Fenger '83) 47.1, Michael Wade of North Chicago 47.01 in 80. My Big 8 brother in college, Frank Atwater Rock Island ('87) clocked 46.8. Perhaps the most intimidating man in the check-in tent, was Harlan South of Harvey Thornton at 47.10. I watched him stand over opponents in the tent and scream, "What are you in here for?" and then go run a 45-second split. You better not have an 1980 400m list without Sunder Nix '80 (Chicago Phillips). Out of the top six times in Illinois history, four are from the 80's. I didn't even mention Tim Simon (Proviso East- '84) 47.5 and Aaron Mayo (Bloom Trail- '85) 47.7.

As time moves on, history gets pushed further and further away. But when you're talking the Golden Age of Illinois track and field, it's the '80s hands down. As Roy Jones Jr. used to say, "ya'll must've forgot!"