Honor Roll Meet turns 50 as Tuesday's all-star meet continues legacy started in 1975

May 26—TRAVERSE CITY — Fifty years ago Tuesday, a legacy was born in Suttons Bay.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle/John Lober Honor Roll Track Meet — back then known simply as the Traverse City Area Honor Roll Track Meet — ran for the first three years at Suttons Bay High School.

After all, that was the only school in northwest Lower Michigan with an asphalt track facility. Once Traverse City Central moved out of encircling Thirlby Field and built its own facility with asphalt, the Honor Roll has resided there ever since.

"You can go down every event and pick out an outstanding performance," then-TC Central coach Joe Neihardt said in a Record-Eagle article written by the late John Davis. "Every one of them was well-run. These kids really put out for this thing, and you could see by the looks on their faces that they're looking forward to next year's meet. ... This may have been the finest meet ever run in the northwestern part of the state."

The first race was on a Thursday, held May 29, 1975. Since moving to Traverse City Central, it's been a staple the Tuesday after Memorial Day, bringing together the top track athletes from all sizes of area schools to compete against each other.

"It's really tremendous that it's still going," said TC Central 1977 grad Kim Morey, who now lives in Okemos. "It takes a tremendous amount of work to do it from the coaches, athletes, officials — especially John Lober. He had the ties with people to do that and get it off the ground."

Tim Brendel, a Northport runner who won the 100 and 200 the first year, still recalls looking in the newspaper every Tuesday for the Honor Roll rankings. Coaches mailed their top times and distances to Lober, and he complied and submitted them to Record-Eagle sports editor Ken Bell, who TC Central also has an annual track meet named after.

"It doesn't seem like it was 50 years ago," Brendel said.

An assistant coach at the time, Lober picked up the idea from Lansing, which had a similar track meet at the time.

"The idea was we were promoting our sport, putting it in front of everybody in the newspaper. It was like a billboard," Lober said.

The first scratch meeting — where coaches discussed who would race in each event, since many athletes wouldn't compete in all four events they could, with the state finals less than a week away — was held in the back room of Sleder's Family Tavern.

Lober insisted on no team scores to level the playing field between large and small schools.

"The purpose was to put them together regardless of size, and see how they do against each other," Lober said. "We couldn't have done this without the Record-Eagle."

The first year, Lober passed out hats with "Champion" on them to all the coaches and referees. His father, who was an engineer at Champion Sparkplugs in Toledo, brought the promotional hats from his company.

Lober has new hats made about every five years, and this year is no exception.

This year's souvenir program is over 50 pages long. It includes a page honoring 2020 seniors who raced in the 2019 event and weren't able to follow that up a year late due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down spring high school sports across Michigan.

Mark Hentschell represented Kingsley in the 1977 and '78 Honor Roll meets. His 800 relay team placed second when he was a freshman, which would have been a school record, but the quartet was disqualified. He made up for that as a sophomore, helping the Stags win the 1,600 relay.

"It was great," Hentschell said. "I remember how fast it goes because there's only one heat of everything. The meet just flies by."

Hentschell, who now is Lober's neighbor in Traverse City, has helped coach Kingsley since 2005.

Two of his best memories of the meet were watching the performances by Benzie Central distance runner Hunter Jones and seeing TC Central's Jim Hensel become the first high school pole vaulter in Michigan history to clear 16 feet in 1982, a meet record of 16'0.5" that still stands.

Hentschell ran in college at Saginaw Valley, and his coach there sent him home after the season to recruit track athletes at the Honor Roll.

"It was always a lot of fun," Brendel said. "For guys at schools like me at Northport, Frankfort, Mancelona, it was always fun to beat the guys from Traverse City Central. That was the only time guys like me would be able to run against TC Central."

Central did well, certainly, but the other smaller schools were able to win 11 of the 14 boys events and four of 13 girls events in the inaugural 1975 event. The first Honor Roll came 22 years before TC Central split into two high schools, and the Trojans' enrollment was around 3,000.

Brendel holds the distinction of holding an Honor Roll record that's unlikely to be broken.

He won the 100-yard dash in the first meet in 1975 at 10.2 seconds. High schools changed to the metric system in 1979, and Brendel's mark from four years earlier still stood. Unless track and field unexpectedly goes back to Imperial distance measurements for running events, it's a record that will never be broken.

"It was always one of the highlights of the year, that and states," Brendel said. "It's always right before the state meet, so it was a great warm-up for that. But more than a warm-up, really."

Similarly, TCC's Scott Krupilski's record is also likely to last forever. He set the 330 low hurdles mark in 1982, an event that's now at 300 meters. Jeff Gerow holds the 180-yard low hurdles record he set in 1975 in another distance that isn't part of track and field's offerings anymore.

"It's very exciting when it's right in your backyard," Morey said. "My parents could go because it was in Suttons Bay."

Morey set the 220-yard dash record in 1975 that still stands after the metric conversion. The current 200-meter dash (which TC West's Sara Schermerhorn holds the record in) would be 218.7 yards. Schermerhorn's mark of 25.64 is only 0.14 seconds off Morey's.

The meet's oldest record is Kaye Leighton's high jump mark of 5'8" set in 1978. Traverse City West junior Madeline Bildeaux has come closest to that mark this season, clearing 5'5" just two weeks ago.

Morey also set the 100 record in 1975, but that lasted only one year as Glen Lake's Janet Hale matched the mark the following year.

"I had a friendly rivalry with (Hale," Morey said. "We were always competing in sports. It was nice to have another great opponent to compete head-to-head against when we normally didn't."

On the ladies' side, Suttons Bay's Robin Jones holds the 200-meter low hurdles record in an event that no longer is part of standard track meets.

Todd Kulawiak, now the principal at Buckley High School, won the mile in 1984 and '85 and set the 800 meet record in 1987 for Benzie Central. That 800 record stood until 1999, when TC Central's John Hughes broke it.

"It was when you brought the smaller and larger schools together," Kulawiak said. "You got to go against some of the best in the state. My coach, Eldon Moss, told me, 'That's the meet where you show what you've got.'"

Jo (Hills) Hicks ran in the Honor Roll in each of her four years at Glen Lake, graduating in 1981.

"They've got the best, biggest medals you can get," said Hicks, who lost her medals in a house fire.

Polly (Prouty) Walker set the shot put record in 1975 and the discus in 1977. The discus mark stood for 18 years.

"It was a big to-do," Walker said. "I remember my parents came. It was the only time you saw a lot of the other locals. You heard the names but never met. You did at that meet, which made it a big deal. I think I was more nervous there than at the state meet because everybody was there to see."

Walker was a sophomore back then. She threw only shot put in the event's first time out, as there was no discus event that year.

Walker, who went on to teach at West Middle School and Traverse City Central for 15 years each and coach the Trojans from 1983-89 and 2002-05, brought on Lisa Taylor in her second stint as coach after her former Michigan State teammate moved to Traverse City.

Lober is inviting anyone who competed in or was involved with the inaugural 1975 Honor Roll Meet to participate in this year's Parade of Stars.

Any Honor Roll record-holders (regardless of whether the mark still stands) can also be included in the parade during Tuesday's meet, as well as any available winners of the meet's Legacy Award. Coaches and officials from the first Honor Roll are also encouraged to join the parade.

The parade takes place at 5:40 p.m., and participants should check in to the TC Central track building by 5:15 p.m.

The meet itself starts with field events at 4 p.m., with track events slated for 6:15 p.m.

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