MANSFIELD — Jeff Jenkins’ love affair with the Mehock Relays spans seven decades.
He fell in love with the relays as a youngster hearing stories about his father, AC Jenkins, a Mehock Champion and State Hurdles Champion for Mansfield Senior in 1950.
He stayed in love with it as a hurdler, using the fierce competition he saw in the famed track meet as a stepping stone to the 1975 state championships in ups and downs for Madison High School.
And he fell in love with it again during coaching stints at five different schools, most recently as head coach the past two years at Cleveland Central Catholic.
Jenkins loves the Mehock so much he doesn’t hold it against the relays he believes he won the high hurdles in 1975, only to have the top spot awarded to another competitor.
“It was 28 degrees that day,” he said, “and they still ran the competition.”
Apart from a four-year period during World War II, the Mehock has only been canceled two other times in its illustrious history – in 1982 due to a snowstorm and in 2020 due to COVID.
Were it not for erasing those six years from the books, the Mehock would celebrate its centenary in 2027. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this milestone will now occur in 2033.
And Jenkins will probably come back again – for what he thinks are the obvious reasons.
“It’s because of my background with the relays, my history with this city, and I love seeing a competition of this magnitude,” he said. “Here (in Cleveland), we don’t see a meet of that size.”
Jenkins, 65, lives and breathes athletics. A former two-time national junior college champion, he runs a camp for Cleveland-area hurdlers called Hurdlers Haven (hurdlershaven.com), whose high school state champions over the years have been among teenagers.
He saw the Mehock as his peak, when Cleveland Glenville protege Ted Ginn Jr. went on a rampage, and when he fell on hard times due to poor track conditions and had to relocate for three years.
He loves the inroads Shannon Sprang has made since taking over as meet director in 2020. In 2019, the last year before COVID hit, the field only included eight schools from outside the center- northern Ohio.
As recently as 2015, the Relays boasted a field of around 40 schools, including boys’ and girls’-side public powers like Glenville, Dayton Dunbar, Cleveland Beaumont, Rocky River Magnificat and Warren Harding. .
Last Saturday’s meet drew 26 boys’ and girls’ teams, including three Cleveland-area schools, two Michigan schools and a total of 16 programs from outside the Mansfield area.
It was the highest number of schools out of the region since 2017, meaning the word is once again spreading about the stints.
“He’s growing,” said Jenkins, who brought 16 boys and girls to the 89th Mehock last week. “Times may not be what they were in its heyday, but people are here to compete. As long as people come, it will continue to improve.
Sprang spread the word
Much of the credit for making the Relays known goes to Sprang. She knows from her experience as a high school coach and recorded official that teams have many options these days when it comes to scheduling. They’re not just going to show up because the Mehock has been around for nearly 100 years and has seven Olympic champions among its alumni.
Kids today don’t know any of these famous names, even Jesse Owens. Their fathers, maybe even their grandfathers, were not alive when the last of these Olympic gold medalists won gold at Mehock in 1962.
The meeting, unfortunately, will no longer sell.
So Sprang pulled out the results from last year’s state meet and issued invitations to the top 20 teams in each division. In total, she sent invitations to about 90 schools in Ohio and 30 schools in Michigan.
Michigan school powerhouse East Kentwood swept the boys’ and girls’ titles at this year’s meet. His boys won eight state championships in 11 years between 2009 and 2019.
A Mehock fixture in recent years, East Kentwood did not compete last year due to Michigan’s COVID-related travel restrictions. But the school is already planning to return in 2003.
“My goal is to continue to grow the competition,” Sprang said. “We won’t get the number of athletes the competition had 30 years ago (in the 1980s the competition attracted 350 schools and 3,500 athletes from six states and Canada) because everyone now has a all-weather track. (Mehock Field was one of the first in this part of the country) there’s 100 invitations to Ohio, and that kind of thing. But I want to bring the quality of the meet back to where it should be.
“I think if we could have 35 to 40 schools, I would be happy. I think that would be a solid representation.
Sprang said Columbus Bishop Hartley and a school near Lima were going to enter this year but couldn’t because the meet fell on a holiday weekend. Dayton Thurgood Marshall and Huron were under travel restrictions this year but told Sprang they would like to be in next year’s peloton.
“Garrettsville Garfield is one of the schools that reached out and said, ‘Hey, thanks for having us. We would be honored,” Sprang said. “It was interesting to me that some schools didn’t realize they were welcome. It was just a matter of contacting them. »
All schools in Richland County will be recruited
Sprang would like to see all schools in Richland County participate in the meeting while also maintaining a connection with schools in Crawford County. Ontario, which held its own invitational tournament two days earlier, and Lexington, which still participates in the Milan Edison Invite on the same day as the Mehock, were conspicuous by their absence.
Shelby Grover, Lucas’ hurdler/sprinter/jumper star, would have been one of the main local attractions. Ironically, his team competed that day in Loudonville in the Cowen Invitational, a meet Sprang helped found at his alma mater nearly 20 years ago when it was called the Mohican Elite Meet.
“I think what’s great about the Mehock is usually if you go to another invite in the state, you’re racing against schools your size, in the same division,” she said. . “Here, all the divisions clash.
“So if you’re a Division III athlete, you’re racing against Division I competition. I think schools appreciate being able to compete against teams that they might not see anywhere else or even in the state.
Sprang was just two months into her reign as the sixth competition manager in Mehock’s history when the power outlet was pulled from sport nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It started in January 2020 and hasn’t really slowed down.
“This (cancellation) was a bit of a blessing because I didn’t really have time to get my bearings and put things together,” Sprang said. “And last year teams still weren’t allowed to travel that much or that far due to COVID.”
It should be encouraging to see that there has been a significant increase in teams this year, even though the competition took place over the Easter weekend. And it also shows that the level of competition is improving that three individual 2021 champions have failed to defend their titles.
The great scenarios will always be there.
This year we’ve seen Mansfield Senior’s Keontez Bradley sweep the boys 100, 200 and 400 dashes, Tyger’s teammates Maurice Ware and Amil Upchuch battle it out for the high jump title, Crestview’s Tommy O’Neill and Morgan Welch sweep the boys and girls 800 and 1600 and Alexsia Davis steps up and wins the 100 and 200 for Madison’s underpowered women’s team.
Here’s another headline: Sprang, a former star athlete from Loudonville and Baldwin-Wallace University, has been a godsend.
A last minute rental a real blessing
Schools officials in the town of Mansfield were struggling to find a replacement principal after Sharon Wiegand quit after four years. By the 11th hour, they found themselves with someone who already had running experience and who had spent his entire adult life with high school kids as a teacher, coach and administrator.
Legendary Tyger manager Harry Mehock, who started the competition in 1927 with three teams, can rest assured the competition is in good hands. And not just at Sprang.
The officials who rock competitions are often taken for granted, but she couldn’t have asked for a better crew. Glen Smith was the head umpire, Don Herman and Bill Workman were the starters, and Wiegand was the head umpire. Brady Groves, who was Wiegand’s predecessor as Mehock’s manager, ran the high jump.
“It’s good to keep a lot of the same crew,” Sprang said of this group of veterans. “They work together, they know how things work and the Mehock is also a bit personal for them.”
Mansfield City Schools Superintendent Stan Jefferson, who coached the track in the city for more than 20 years, hasn’t ruled out moving the Mehock to Friday nights and bringing in temporary lighting. Many weekend fixtures have moved to Friday. It would be another step in the air.
In this sense, using social media to promote the Mehock could also be a plus. Sprang noted that Mansfield Senior works with a marketing company.
“We need to let it be known (on social media),” the mother-of-two said. “That’s what coaches and youngsters use today. They use Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram…all of it. If we can master social media platforms and post photos and updates. that’s what will sell the meeting, because that’s what attracts the children.