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Friendly rivalry: Warriors vs. Vikings

Michael Traum

Don’t expect to see any scowls, glaring stare downs or fists pumping. Oh, there will be rivalry. But track and field is not an in-your-face kind of sport.

The “Battle of the Lake,” the meeting of crosstown high schools Whittell and South Tahoe, will be about competitive fun. Seventeen running, throwing and jumping events kick off at 3:30 p.m., rain or shine, on the history-laden facilities at South Tahoe Middle School.

“They’re aren’t any behaviors (in track and field) that go on in other sports that give them a bad name. That doesn’t happen,” said Whittell coach Dan Makley. “It’s a friendly sport. If my team does their best and South Tahoe does its best, it doesn’t really matter who wins. A lot of people don’t understand that.”

The Warriors and Vikings will meet on the track for the first time since 1994. The idea came about during last month’s All-Comers meet, which was hosted by South Tahoe and organized by Viking girls coach Anthony Davis.

“The main purpose is for these athletes to run at home and for the community to see some top quality athletes,” Davis said. “(Whittell’s discus thrower) Bob Linkul came up with the name and we decided to do it.”

A rivalry in the making?

Traditionally, Whittell and South Tahoe don’t meet on the athletic field. The reason typically revolves around both teams not wanting to be embarrassed. And it’s usually a valid argument. The Warriors compete in the Northern Nevada 3A league, with a school enrollment of roughly 250. The Vikings are a smallish 4A school, with about 1,400 students.

But in a sport like track and field, where a team’s performance is based mostly on individual effort, coaches were unencumbered by the numbers in their desire to organize the event.

“I’d say it’s a rivalry. But it’s going to be close. South Tahoe will have to run well if it wants to win it,” Davis said. “When I saw that Makley got the coaching job at Whittell two years ago, I had a hunch they’d have a special team.”

And Davis was right. At least five Warriors are poised to qualify for state in different events, which should provide plenty of firepower against the Vikings, who also possess a handful of state-caliber athletes.

Makley, who stopped short of calling the matchup a full-blown rivalry, said he’s confident his kids can compete with the bigger school.

“I’m pretty sure that our quality people can compete with 4A kids or I wouldn’t have agreed to this. We’ll win several events and probably score in every event we enter,” Makley said. “I don’t know how good it’s going to be for South Tahoe’s confidence to get beat by us.”

Added Whittell junior Sarah Sufka, “Yeah, they (South Tahoe) have more people. But they don’t seem like a huge, scary school. We have a lot of respect for them, though, and look forward to competing against them. I just think of them as another team at the lake.”

South Tahoe freshman sprinter Jake Hurwitz had similar feelings. “There’s always some friction between two teams, but this will be fun. They’ve got a lot of good people. We’re about the same. It’s not going to be easy.”

Two kinds of track meets

It’s not like a little springtime weather will keep these mountain athletes from displaying their wares. Davis described his preparation for the “Battle” as straightforward.

“You either prepare for wet or dry. (The weather) is definitely making me a little nervous,” he said. “We’re preparing for a rain meet. It means running for cover and warming up a little longer. We’re looking for canopies or anything to keep people dry.

“But rain adds to a meet. When you go head-to-head with someone on a nice day, you can pretty much predict what will happen. But in the rain, anything can happen. Times will be a bit slower. The bottom line is it’s an all-weather track. We’re going to have a meet.”

Ghosts of the track’s past

Fans, while you’re out there enjoying your town’s best prep athletes, take a moment to take in the surroundings.

Look past the scarred track surface and weathered lines. Imagine a different time, when America’s best graced the very same lanes that your son or daughter is running on.

The track, in case you didn’t know or realize, is state-of-the-art in design. Built by the United States Olympic Committee in 1968, the track carried the best athletes from the United States when they trained for the Mexico City Olympics. The track used to be on Echo Summit, in the parking lot of the current California Conservation Corps and former Echo Summit Ski Area. Notice how the lot is in an oval shape.

Names like Bob Beeman, former world record long jumper; Lee Evans, former 400 meter world record holder; and Tommie Smith, the winner of the Olympic 200 meters who raised his fist in protest at the Mexico City Games, all ran on that very same track. It hosted one of two Olympic Trials that year.

According to Davis, the track was then donated to the city of South Lake Tahoe and placed at the middle school. But the upkeep responsibilities have been passed on to the point that the coach, and many of his associates, are unsure which entity is now in charge.

“Hopefully, we can raise some awareness and show people it’s a worthwhile cause to restore the track. We can run a safe event, but repairs and upgrading are needed. In my opinion, it’s time to find out who really is responsible for that track. Ultimately, it’s for the local athletes, especially the kids, and their future development,” Davis said.

Support track and field

It’s not too often that local fans are privy to a free exhibition of the top athletes in the South Shore area. The closest most track followers get to seeing locals run typically consists of at least a 100-mile roundtrip. Top that off with the good, clean competition expected between crosstown schools and the opportunity seems to be a don’t-miss event.

“I think it’s great for the whole community. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of fans so they can see how much we love track,” Sufka said.

Added Hurwitz, “When you have to travel all the way to Fallon (or wherever) for a meet, the only people cheering you on are your teammates. There’s nobody else there to get you hyped up. This is going to be a good experience for both schools.”

Volunteers are needed to help with various events and, if interested, are asked to dress weather-smart and arrive at 3 p.m.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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