By Neil Branson
For Seaside Signal
EUGENE — Being in Eugene before, during and after last spring’s OSAA track & field state championships, the Prefontaine Classic and the NCAA Championships, I read the Eugene Register-Guard daily. And in every edition there was at least one article, an editorial or letters to the editor lamenting or celebrating the changes coming to Historic Hayward Field, which has since been torn down to make way for a huge makeover.
Hayward was home to USA, NCAA, world Junior, world Masters, and state high school championships.
When they were still in fashion, nail-biting dual meets between the University of Oregon and USC, UCLA or Washington State would draw large crowds to the stadium.
Hayward was the venue for the 1972, ’76, ’80, 2008, ’12 and ’16 Olympic Trials, and will be the site of the 2021 IAAF World Championships, which have never been held in the USA. It is this event that is triggering the changes to Hayward Field.
I don’t have a dog in the fight and see both sides of the coin for those who understand the need for a massive upgrade, and those who shudder at the dismantling of the east grandstands which, without a doubt, are the signature physical feature of Hayward Field.
My memories of the University of Oregon’s track are indelible, and regardless of what comes next, I will treasure them all.
Thinking back to 1963, I recall when my McKenzie High track team competed in the Hayward Relays. In the distance medley, my older brother Joe, running the half-mile, passed the baton to me as I ran the mile.
This was in the days before tracks had all-weather surfaces. The finish line was in the northeast corner. My recollection of our time and place have faded to oblivion, but the sight of Joe bearing down on me with the baton has not.
Besides that distance medley relay back in 1963, I ran both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters in the 1989 Master’s World Championships.
During the 25 laps of the 10K, a Brazilian and I kept each other company and on a decent pace, while my sister-in-law encouraged me to beat him. I do not recall if I did or did not, nor my finishing time or place. What I do remember was my individual lap counter who turned out to be my biggest fan.
Wife Mary was occupied entertaining our two-year-old daughter, Ann, who was bored to tears watching me go around and around.
Out for a road run in the summer of 1991, I passed by Hayward and saw an all-comers meet in progress. In I went to enter the 800, pulled the fee out of my socks (a runner never knows when they might need to stop for a milkshake) and gathered with the other racers.
Being a 44-year-old pup, I opted for the slower of two heats and the Hayward magic pulled me to a 2:08.
When daughter Ann was about four, Mary and I took her to an all-comers meet, and the little whipper snappers could run a 50-yard dash.
Mary lined Ann up for the race. With the “go” given, the kids took off. Ten meters down the track Ann stopped to wave to her grandmother while Mary urged her toward the finish.
What really tweaked Mary was a father who stood behind his daughter and, with arms spread wide, channeled his child down the track. Did any of those kids give a rip? I don’t think so. And yet it was a celebration of track at the roots.
No way could I count the number of meets I have attended at Hayward.
Going to Hayward is consistently a treat as the fans are knowledgeable and passionate about the sport. While they appreciate all competitors, there are some athletes who tug a bit stronger at the heart strings of fans. Understandable those with Oregon ties get full support.
In my years there has been one woman, Allyson Felix, with just the mention of her name people become fired up. She is a 10-time Olympic medalist, five of those from relays and five from individual events which includes a gold at the 2012 Olympics in the 200.
Felix always handles herself with grace, consistently willing to run events that are not her forte.
Eugene is Track Town USA and the Hayward venue is its epicenter. There is no better place for me to feed my passion for track and field.