Ron Wopat is one of the great track and field athletes in Midwest Conference history and also starred on the gridiron for Lawrence University.
A native of Lodi, Wis., Wopat is the best thrower in Lawrence history. He was a six-time track and field All-American and a seven-time Midwest Conference champion. A member of the class of 1978, Wopat is Lawrence’s third selection to the Midwest Conference Centennial Celebration Top 100. The conference is celebrating its centennial with the unveiling of 100 of the greatest athletes in league history.
More than 40 years after his graduation, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Wopat still holds three Lawrence records. He set the indoor shot put record with a heave of 52 feet, 10.5 inches, in 1976. Wopat set both school outdoor records in 1977 with a mark of 53-9.5 in the shot put and 171-0 in the discus. Wopat still owns the Midwest Conference record in the discus with a toss of 166-4.5 at the 1977 Midwest Conference Championships.
A charter member of the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame, Wopat qualified for the NCAA Division III Championships four times. Wopat earned All-America honors in both the shot put and discus in each of his final three years.
Wopat had his best NCAA Championships in 1977 at Calvin College. Wopat placed second in the shot put with a Lawrence-record toss of 53-9.5 and then placed third in the discus with a throw of 159-4. He returned to Calvin as a senior in 1978 for NCAA Championships and placed fourth in both the shot put and discus. He recorded a toss of 53-2.5 in the shot and threw the discus 160-6.
Wopat earned All-America honors for the first time in both events in 1976. He also had qualified in 1975 and finished eighth in the discus and 10th in the shot put. Competing in the NCAA Championships at the University of Chicago in 1976, Wopat placed fourth in the discus with a throw of 161-7 and fifth in the shot put with a toss of 52-0.5.
Wopat, who also threw the javelin and competed in a variety of running events, dominated the Midwest Conference in the shot put and discus during his four seasons.
As a rookie in 1975, he took first in the discus at 151-2 and first in the shot put at 48-11.75 at the Midwest Conference Championships. He swept the two events again at the 1976 MWC Championships with winning distances of 153-11 in the discus and 50-3 in the shot put. It was more of the same at the 1977 MWC Championships as Wopat won the shot put at 51-7 and then set Midwest Conference and Whiting Field records in the discus at 166-4.5. Wopat then finished his four-year sweep of the discus at the 1978 MWC Championships with a winning throw of 164-10, and he took second in the shot put at 51-3.
A receiver on the football team, Wopat caught 68 passes for 1,009 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. He had his best season in 1976 when he grabbed 34 passes for 646 yards and eight touchdowns.
Wopat had a career day in Lawrence’s 43-0 victory over Beloit College in 1976 and set a pair of school records that day that stood for decades. Wopat posted a school-record 241 receiving yards that day, and that mark stood until 2001. He caught an 85-yard touchdown pass from Ken Meyer in the game (he also had TD catches of 42 and 10 yards in the contest), and that record stood until 2005.
Wopat was a starter on Lawrence’s 1975 Midwest Conference championship team, and the Vikings posted a 30-6 record during his career.
Wopat is retired from a long career as a mathematics professor at Santa Barbara City College and lives in Goleta, Calif.