There will not be any state track and field medals awarded this season as the annual WIAA meet, which began in 1895, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic responsible for infecting people with COVID-19.
For Lake Mills High School, 2020 marks the 40-year anniversary of the school’s girls state-championship winning team, a team coached by Bob Petruska. The L-Cat girls also won crowns in 1974 and 1986.
Gwen (Petruska) Hering was a sophomore on the 1980 team. She acknowledged the memories, like the sport of track and field itself, last a lifetime.
“I remember we were excited and we ran our hearts out,” Hering said. “We didn’t even think about the time. We wanted to get first. We were fired up and it was fun. It was fun even with the pressure, we were like ‘bring it on.’”
Lake Mills had four individual championships en route to winning the Class B (now Division 2) title at Madison’s Mansfield Stadium with 44 points, bettering second-place Richland Center by seven points.
Cheryl Jackson, a senior, won the 100- and 200-meter dashes and junior Sharon Claas won the 100- and 200-yard hurdles. Hering took third in the high jump competition.
State concluded with the mile relay, an event they set a school record earlier that year in which lasted 29 years, and the L-Cat girls finished on the podium to officially secure the team championship. Then, it was time to celebrate.
“When we returned to Lake Mills, a fire truck picked us up at the north end of County Park and took us for a ride around town,” Hering said. “What added to the excitement was that our teammates who didn’t run at state also met us and we were all able to ride the fire truck as a team.
“Also, I believe it was that summer of 1980 that the four of us rode on a float for Town and Country Days. During that time, there was great team camaraderie. We all warmed up together, got the hurdles on and off the track together and took a lap together after every meet. It was an amazing time to be an L-Cat.”
Freshman Molly Curtin was the fourth member of the triumphant group coached by Hering’s father.
“That made it especially nice,” said Hering of winning state with her father as coach. “The other three girls all got along with my dad. He was a wonderful coach. Treated us all the same and joked with us all the same. All the other gals would say we had fun and he was part of that.”
Hering has advice for this year’s senior class who saw their season canceled, explaining that competition in track and field can be a lifelong endeavor.
“Don’t discount the experiences that you have had leading up to your senior year,” Hering said. “I realize there are probably more than a few of you that had goals for your senior season from personal records you wanted to beat to conference titles you wanted to win and either returning to La Crosse for the state meet or working to get to state for the first time.
“As a reminder to the seniors, your competitiveness does not have to stop here. You can continue running, jumping and throwing either competitively or for fun. Both Sharon and Cheryl continued to compete in college and Sharon is still running marathons today. Your competitive edge does not have to stop here.”
In 1986, Pat Hauser, who was an assistant on the 1980 team, coached the program to a state championship. The L-Cats tallied 34 points to tie for first with a Dirk Seibold-led Whitewater squad.
“Our practices were competitive,” Hauser said of the ‘86 team. “They were great kids besides being great athletes and they were good students. Back in those days there was a meet in Edgerton called the ‘Tider Invitational’. For most schools, that was the most competitive event each year with the top teams in this part of the state.
“They always do an athlete of the meet and our girls relay teams (got that award) after winning all three relays. We had six girls who did individual events and relays. That was a good indication of how strong the team was. We had a couple of good distance runners and jumpers.”
Colleen O’Connor ran the anchor leg of the 4X400 relay, the final event of the ‘86 state meet needing a fourth-place or better finish for the championship. O’Connor proceeded to make up enough ground on the final lap for the relay to place exactly fourth.
The 1974 title was the program’s first as a group coached by Mary Ann Graunke scored 23 points to edge Sturgeon Bay by four.
These three track and field titles comprise half of Lake Mills’ state championships in school history along with boys golf in 1997 and gymnastics (1979 and 1980).