YAKIMA, Wash. -- In its 50-year history as a track and field complex, Yakima’s Zaepfel Stadium has hosted nine boys and girls state championships, more national-caliber athletes than you might imagine, a bunch of all-time state records and more than one eventual world-record holder.
Recently in the news for its need of an upgrade to the structures, infield and track surface, Zaepfel Stadium has been home to dozens of remarkable performances and stories — how many venues can say it lost a state championship meet because of a volcano eruption? — and the list is long whether it’s sprinting, running, throwing or jumping.
Even in its aging state, the track still produces elite times as evidenced at last Saturday’s 39th annual Don Holder Relays, where Glacier Peak’s Amy-Eloise Neale clocked 4 minutes, 43.57 seconds in the 1,600-meter run for the fourth-fastest time in the nation.
On Saturday, the athletic complex simply known as Yakima Stadium when it debuted in 1962-63 will host the state’s oldest high school track meet — the 87th Davis Invitational.
With a half century of history and the recent controversy about the condition of the facility and what it could be, the time is ripe to establish a set of stadium records. In each of the 35 events there are compelling stories. Here are a few:
• Five of the records still stand from the biggest meet hosted here 32 years ago, the 1981 Class AAA state championships. Yakima was awarded the meet for two years but in 1980, just 11 days before the competition, Mount St. Helens blew so it was hastily relocated to Highline Stadium in Burien.
As is often the case, the wind howled during Saturday’s finals, kicking up year-old ash, and pushed the nation’s best 1-2 sprint tandem — Wilson’s Darrell Robinson and Calvin Kennon — to jaw-dropping times. Robinson, a junior who rode the breeze to a 200 time of 20.88, set a national prep 400 record the next year (44.69) that has yet to be challenged.
Issaquah’s Mary Moore led the nation clearing 6-0 in the high jump, an event that three years earlier saw an even more remarkable feat in Yakima.
• At the Class A state meet in 1978, Pateros junior Terry Ellis, who had reportedly taken up the high jump just the year before, scaled 7-2 1/4 for a two-inch state record. He waited until all other jumpers were out and cleared 6-8 in his sweats.
Ellis was no fluke as he won the Golden West meet in California that summer at 7-2, just missing at 7-4 1/2. But he was a shooting star, opting not to jump as a senior and never regaining his lofty heights at Wenatchee Valley and Arizona State.
• Any time Davis sprinter Willie Turner stepped on the track in the mid-60s he was a threat to do something amazing. His best prep times came in Pullman, where he swept the 100- and 220-yard dashes in 1965 and ‘66, but he did run a 9.5 100 in Yakima as a senior, a time that roughly translates to 10.4 for 100 meters.
Turner also used his speed in the long jump and he staged a memorable duel with Eisenhower’s Glen Shaw on a windy day in 1965. Shaw started by jumping 23-0 and Turner countered with 23-3. Then Shaw upped the ante huge, sailing 24-1 1/2, but that only inspired Turner, who pushed out to 24-6 1/2.
The high wind negated any records, but a week later an anemometer was purchased (by Darigold, interestingly) to provide confirmation for future marks. As a senior, Turner jumped a legal 23-9 1/4 at the stadium.
Turner outgrew state records in a hurry, equalling the 100-meter world record of 10.0 as a freshman at Oregon State.
• Thirty years after Turner, along came Ellensburg’s Ja’Warren Hooker, who rewrote all the state’s sprint records.
The first salvo in his 1997 record rampage came in the Holder Relays, where he lowered the state 100 record to 10.53 despite chilly weather and a headwind in just his second meet. Two hours later he ran the 400 in 47.29.
Hooker finished high school with bests of 10.27 and 21.02, which remain state records. He was a member of the U.S. Olympic 4x400 pool in 2000.
• In 1977, Yakima hosted the National Junior Olympic multi-event championships and the big local news was Davis’ Scott Wells placing third in the age 17-18 decathlon. But in the girls 15-16 pentathlon was a 14-year-old from East St. Louis named Jackie Joyner, whose score was better than the 17-18 division.
That’s understandable since all Joyner did was become a four-time Olympian with three gold medals and a world record in the heptathlon that still seems untouchable.
ON YOUR MARKS: Lynnwood’s Ben Lindsey, who owns the stadium records in the shot and discus, fouled on one discus throw that landed flat near 200 feet, skipped under the mesh fence, bounced over the sidewalk and ended up on Tieton Drive. ... Yakima Stadium was named after John Zaepfel in January of 1973 after the Yakima School District’s longtime coach and athletic director passed away the previous year. ... In addition to the AAA meet in 1981, Yakima hosted the A state meet in 1976-1979 and 1994-1995 and the Bs in 1994-1995. ... State competition has produced nine stadium records, Big Nine district and 4A regional have eight each and the Holder Relays and Davis Invitational have five apiece.