Third in a series
California has historically been one of the strongest states when it comes to girls distance running. Before 1974, some of the all-time best runners in state history ran in that era. One example is Fremont, Sunnyvale HS runner Francie Larrieu. In 1969 as a high school junior, Larrieu represented the United States in a meet in Germany where she finished in third place in the 1500m with a time of 4:16.8 which equaled the American record. That time also held up as the high school national record until Mission Prep's Jordan Hasay finally surpassed it in 2008.
Larrieu ran for the San Jose Cindergals, which was one of the many club teams that formed before high school and colleges finally offered athletics for women. Below is a photo of Larrieu (right) winning the 1973 AAU meet mile courtesy her coach Augie Argabright. It should also be noted that Rio Americano HS school senior Eileen Claugus (left) finished in third place in the race below in a time of 4:40.7 which was the national record for 10 years. With Claugus graduating in 1973, she was one of the elite girls that just missed participating in the first CIF-State Track and Field Championships that included girls in 1974.
In 1974, the top CA female distance runners were finally given an opportunity to represent their high schools at the State Meet. In order to qualify, girls had to compete at their section meet and only the winners advanced to compete for a State championship.
First Girls 880y Champion
That year, the two distance races that were contested were the 880 yard run and the mile (the 2 mile was added in 1977). Several elite distance runners like Mary Decker and Ruth Wysocki did not compete for varied reasons but the inaugural distance races in 1974 were just as important to the evolution of the California female distance runners.
The winner of the 880 at the 1974 State Meet was Pleasant Hill HS (now defunct) junior, Kathy Costello (photo below courtesy of teammate Roberta Chisam). Costello won the North Coast Section 880 in a time of 2:14.8 which surpassed the DGWS (Division for Girls' and Women's Sports) national record of 2:16.6 by Debbie Roth of Eugene, Oregon in 1972.
At the State Meet, Costello was even more impressive as she lowered the national record to 2:10.4 and easily outdistanced the second-place finisher, Joyce Anderson of Morningside (2:12.8).
In 1975 as a senior, Costello qualified in both distance events and recorded a unique historic double. She repeated as the state champion in the 880 with an even faster 2:09.2 winning time. In the mile, which back then was the last individual event before the mile relay, she rolled to her third state individual title with a 4:53.5 winning effort.
To this day, Costello is the only CA girl to sweep the 880y/800m and mile/1600m double at the same State Meet.
Aside from the girls that were pioneers for future female track athletes, there were also coaches that were just as important for the positive movement of female athletics. One such coach was Bob McGuire, Costello's coach at Pleasant Hill HS.
According to Chisam, "Coach Bob McGuire was a fun math teacher at Pleasant Hill. His goofy style, a lot like Hal Daner (Gunn HS coach), gave the students a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. He would always use track and cross country examples for his word problems.
"I was a TA for him my senior year along with pole vaulter Bob Olson, who qualified for CIF in 1974 as well. Coach only worked with cross country and track teams. He was the kind of coach that did the extraordinary for his students and athletes. He was more of a father figure for me as well. McGuire would meet me before school to work on my hurdling or jumping because he had such a big squad to take care of. He was the one that bought uniform tops for the girls because the school did not recognize us as a team in '73 when we had to run with the boys in order to compete. He would provide shoes or equipment for anyone that needed it and he was known to help you get to your SAT tests in other cities if you did not have a car.
"He was fun but expected discipline from his athletes. We all worked hard because we respected him. He would have expectations for all of us and we knew that he cared about all of us."
First Girls Champion in the Mile
Jill Caldwell of Westminster (SS) was the winner of the first mile race at the State Meet, winning with a time of 5:02.2. Caldwell reached the State Meet by winning the mile at the Southern Section finals the previous week in 5:05.1. Her section-winning time surpassed the current DGWS national record of 5:06 set in 1972 by Ray Leen Hooper of Medford, Oregon. Caldwell had the fastest entry time and lowered her own national record by defeating eight other competitors for the State Meet title.
Caldwell was coached by an outstanding coach in Jack Hedges. He started out his coaching career at Huntington Beach HS in 1953 and moved to Westminster in 1959 where he stayed until he retired in 1976. He was inducted in the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational Hall of Fame in 1994 and the CIF SS Hall of Fame in 2014. Along with Caldwell, Hedges also coached another state champion in 1967 as his star runner, Mike Soloman, won the state mile title in 4:11.4. You can read more about coach Hedges at this LINK.
In 1975, the mile field expanded to 23 runners and as a result of the crowded start, the race had to be restarted three times. On the fourth start, Arcadia's Kathy Chisam, who had the third fastest entry time, was tripped on the first backstretch and was too injured to finish the race.
As a result, they held trials in the mile for the first time the following season in 1976.
Impact of Girls on the Championship Schedule
The addition of girls' races changed Saturday's schedule for the 1974 meet. In 1973, due to the potential heat concerns, the boys' 2 mile final took place as the last event on Friday less than an hour after the three mile heats. That made the opportunity to double in the two long-distance events nearly impossible for the boys and nobody attempted that double that year.
As noted in a previous article in this series, the 1974 meet will also be remembered for the stout distance double victory by De La Salle senior, Richard Kimball (photo courtesy of Steve Ernst). Kimball had the opportunity to finally run the 2 mile first at a meet and as a result, Kimball rolled to a personal record 8:46.5. That time was the fastest time ever for a Californian as well as the third fastest time ever behind only distance running legends Craig Virgin (8:40.9 '73) and Steve Prefontaine (8:41.5 '69).
With the addition of the girls to the schedule, Kimball was able to double back in the mile at 9:40 pm, which gave him about 70 minutes of rest after his eight-lap effort. He finished the last lap of the mile in 56.5 with a final time of 4:06.6. The previous week at the North Coast Section final, Kimball had run 4:02.4, which was the second fastest time ever for a CA distance runner trailing only Tim Danielson's 3:59.4. You can check out a very cool sequence of photos of Kimball's double at this LINK.
It should be noted that before girls were added to the State Meet schedule, no boys were able to sweep the distances at the same State Championships since the 2 mile was added in 1965.
MORE IN THIS SERIES
After Kimball's 1974 historic double victory, six boys have matched his 1600m/mile and 3200m/2 mile sweep at the same meet. Roman Gomez did it twice in 1984 and 1985. Only German Fernandez's superhuman effort in 2008 (4:00.29/8:34.23) surpassed Kimball's amazing double in 1974 that helped steal headlines away from the historic first State Meet with girls.
Fast-forwarding to 2020, girls now have the same opportunities as the boys thanks to those pioneering girls and coaches. Since that 1974 State Meet, California has been the home to some the true elite distance runners like Polly Plumer (three-time state champ in mile as well as national record holder), Deena Drossin (two-time state champ in 3200m as well as Olympic medalist in marathon) and Jordan Hasay (four-time state champion in 3200m as well as American Record holder in marathon). Those are just three of the many nationally ranked distance runners who have followed the path of the distance runners that had the opportunity to compete at Bakersfield's Memorial Stadium in 1974.
This is the third installment in a series of articles focusing on the first year girls were able to compete at the CIF-State Track and Field Championships. If you have further information on this event and/or its participants, please email Jeffrey.Parenti@flosports.tv.