CLOVIS — The 99th CIF-State Track and Field Championships took place under sunny skies June 2 and 3 at Veterans Memorial Stadium. 

Kingsburg High pole-vaulter Samuel Heinrichs competed in the meet. While he didn’t get past the preliminaries of the competition, he said he was impressed.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was awesome to be there and I was thankful to be able to go, although it didn’t go the way I wanted it to.”

The double-deck bleachers on the press-box side of the stadium were two-thirds filled, and the visitors’ side about one-third occupied by the time Heinrichs took his first trip down the runway.

“There were a lot of people there and I was a little nervous,” the Kingsburg junior said. “I was surprised at how many people were there.”

The meet is annually the pinnacle of state prep competition and has a rich history.

Manual Arts High of Los Angeles won the first state track meet in 1915 at Fresno High with 25 points.   

The 1928 meet was at Selma High. The attendance was 2,000 and included 200 athletes from 76 schools. Long Beach High won the team competition with 21 points. Kingsburg finished in 18th place with three points. 

A highlight of the '28 meet, said Pete Esraelian, father of Selma High Athletic Director Randy Esraelian, was that Los Angeles High senior Frank Lombardi ran the 100 in 9.6 seconds to break the meet record and tie the world record. Actually, Lombardi ran 101 yards because he was placed one yard behind the starting line — according to the rules in place at the time — after he false-started.

Though Selma did not score any points in the meet on its own campus in 1928, it did excel in the early 1950s. The Bears' Ancel Robinson took third in the 120-yard high hurdles in 1951 at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley and fifth in the 180 lows.

Robinson continued to shine in 1952 at the state meet at the Los Angeles Coliseum, taking first in the 180 lows in 19.4 seconds and also winning the 120 highs in 14.7. The following year at Ratcliffe Stadium in Fresno, Selma's K.A. Collins finished fourth in the high jump with a leap of 6-1.    

I first became aware of the state track meet in 1970 when I attended my brother Jim’s graduation from Serra High of San Mateo. Conspicuously absent from the ceremony was Lynn Swann, who was competing in the state track meet that day.

Swann, still the best prep athlete I’ve ever seen and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, won the 1970 state long jump with a leap of 24-2 3/4, defeating Randy Williams of Edison High of Fresno who went on to win the gold medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Within six years of Swann’s feat, I was covering my first state meet for the San Mateo Times. Back then, the prep editor of the Times was the late Christopher Stave, a stocky man with a fondness for Leon Redbone records, antique furniture and imported beers. What he didn’t care much for was track and field, so he dispatched a 20-something me to the state meets in Berkeley in 1976, Los Angeles in ’77 and Bakersfield in ’78.

My memories of those meets are fuzzy. I do recall the furious illegal betting in the stands in Berkeley and that I was writing stories on a typewriter.  

The venerable state meet, like a graying old lady, is full of memorable tales.  Next year, the event turns 100, and perhaps Kingsburg’s Heinrichs will be one to make a splash.

As for this year, I felt a tinge of sadness on June 2 as I watched Heinrichs pack up his pole and pop-up tent to depart Veterans Memorial. 

“My results this year weren’t what I wanted or expected, but hopefully it will be a good learning tool for next year,” he said.   

John Murphy can be reached at 583-2413 or jmurphy@hanfordsentinel.com.

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