1971 tracksters reflect: Athletic experiences still important opportunities for youth

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Fifty years ago, these four Wauzeka athletes qualified for the state track meet: (from left) Dennis Jones, mile relay; Andy Meiller, mile relay and high jump; Mike Mullikin, mile relay and individual mile; and Art Ward, mile relay.

By Correne Martin

 

Fifty years ago—in a time when track athletes were also allowed to play baseball simultaneously—four other Wauzeka Hornets, all seniors, qualified to compete at state in three events. In 1971, Mike Mullikin went in the mile and as a member of the mile-relay team, alongside Dennis Jones, Art Ward and Andy Meiller, who also qualified individually in the high jump. Mullikin placed fifth in the mile (one step shy of his fourth place state finish in 1970).

Ever since 1971, Wauzeka, and now Wauzeka-Steuben has seen significant success over the years in qualifying both boys and girls for the state track meet.

In fact, Wauzeka-Steuben had a state champion at this year’s Division 3 state track meet. Senior Gavin Ralph won the high jump with a height of 6 feet, 3 inches. Teammate Lucius Cooley, a freshman, garnered a seventh-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles in a time of 42.35 seconds.

Reflecting on his own time in the sport, Mullikin recently came forward, relating his story to today’s student-athletes. He feels small school sports are important to developing youth work ethic and self confidence in addition to community pride and contribution. He also feels the option to play two sports at the same time was a good one and wonders if that could be considered again. 

“We won conference in baseball both years that I went to state track. I’ve never regretted playing two sports at once. I believe you can do it and be competitive,” Mullikin shared. “I’d like to see smaller schools, with declining numbers, embrace that opportunity.”

Mullikin remembers not only their coach, Paul Porvaznik, and his wife, but also prominent men in the town, like Sunny Ray and George Doll, acknowledging his and his teammates’ accomplishments. 

“People were supportive of us, and now I’m happy to return the favor. It was important to me, very encouraging,” Mullikin said. “I’ve always continued to been interested in the athletes. I think it’s instrumental in their success too.”

For instance, Mullikin said he held the record in the mile for over 30 years until it was broken by Josh Ward. “I couldn’t wait ‘til someone broke it. I was so happy for him,” he recalled.

The chance to experience a state athletic competition was one both Mullikin and Meiller are overly grateful for, and they hope the current high school athletes will continue to have such outcomes from their efforts.

“We were pretty close those years,” Meiller said, “and there’s still a bond we have that’s carried over.”

Meiller said it’s certainly beneficial, as a life lesson, to have a goal and try to reach it. He added how fun it’s been for him and his wife to watch and connect with the grandchildren who participate in sports. They’ve even created a cross country course on their home farm for one granddaughter. 

“Track is the kind of sport where you’re a team yet you’re an individual,” he stated. “If you want to put in the work, you can reap the rewards.”

Both he and Mullikin sure feel lucky for those rewards. 

To this day, they still talk often...and the conversation usually drifts back to their days running track together.

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