Turning back the clock
Paton-Churdan was a track and field hot bed 30 years ago
By BRANDON HURLEY
Today’s limited numbers are a far cry from the heyday of Paton-Churdan track and field in the 1980s.
This spring marks the 30th anniversary of a three year run that saw P-C capture four state titles, three district titles, a team state championship, and a runner-up finish - a stretch of sheer dominance that has not been matched since.
The run began in 1985 with a district title, culminated with a state team title in 1986 and was capped by a team silver medal in 1987.
The Rockets won three straight district meets from 1985-1987, qualifying for nine state events in 1987. During that three year span, P-C qualified for 32 state events as they proved their dominance in several field events. The 1986 state championship squad was one of pure dominance. The Rockets qualified for a staggering 15 events, securing two individual titles.
The legendary coach Jim Cox oversaw the rise of Paton-Churdan track and field program.
The Rockets captured two state titles in a span of one academic calendar year, capturing the 1985 football state championship and the 1986 track title. Cox was at the helm for both state championships and finished his career with back-to-back football titles, the state track championship as well as a team track silver medal.
Lant Doran captured a state title in the long jump (21-08) while also qualifying in the 1,600-meter relay (third place), the 400-meter hurdles (fourth) and the 200-meter dash (seventh). Chad Paup won the pole vault state title clearing a school-record 13-07.
Jeff Wilson grabbed a silver medal in the discus (148-11) while Dondi (Donald Dean II) Culbertson finished third.
The Rockets tallied 27 points in all just from the field events thanks to Culbertson’s bronze medal in the shot put (51-10.75).
The 1,600-meter relay squad of Jim Doran, Dan Sabus, Lant Doran and Brett Adams set a school record in finishing third with a time of 3:30.9. Lant Doran ran a school-record time of 56.1 in the 400-meters and came in seventh in the 200-meter dash (23.1). Jim Doran secured eighth overall in the high jump.
Incredibly, 14 of P-C’s 15 state-qualifying events placed in the top 10. The Rockets won four individual titles and qualified for 23 events in a two year span.
Cox’s compiled an 86 percent winning percentage as track coach and guided 54 athletes to the state meet, with 24 medaling. The Rockets broke 100 team points in 28 of the 43 meets under Cox’s guidance.
As football coach, Cox went 57-26 record in 10 seasons at Paton-Churdan, a run that included back-to-back undefeated state championships, three conference titles and a 29-game winning-streak. He left P-C to coach at Ellsworth Community College. He’s also held stints at Southeast Missouri State, William Penn University and the River City Rage professional arena football team.
Cox is now the head football coach at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The Pioneers went 5-4 in Cox’s first season last fall.
Culbertson’s pure strength was frequently on display as he swept both the discus and shot put state titles at the 1987 Class 1A state meet.
Culbertson shattered his own school record by a full three feet (160-05), which he set back in the district meet a year prior (157-03). The winning distance was 15 feet farther than silver medalist Matt Brinkman of Sheffield-Chapin. He also won the shot put with a throw of 52-01.25.
Culbertson set the school record of 54-07.5 at the Wall Lake Comet Relays. The then senior could’ve stretched his school record even farther, tossing 56-09 on his final attempt in Des Moines but was scratched for stepping out of the circle.
The former Rocket remains the only Paton-Churdan track athlete to capture two state titles in a single year, let alone two in a career.
He racked up numerous accolades over his four year career, including back-to-back bronze medals in the shot put before he finally broke through in the shot put. Culbertson also won bronze in the 1986 discus.
Paton-Churdan rode its 1986 state title to a Class 1A state runner-up finish in 1987, tallying 23 points. The Rockets scored 36 team points in 1986 to secure the state team championship.
CAL-Latimer, aided by current Greene County faculty member Chad Morton, won the 1987 team title with 33 total points. The Rockets also qualified for the 400-meter hurdles, the 4x200-meter relay (David Sabus, Todd Mackey, Jed Mengel and Greg Carey), the 4x400-meter relay (Lant Doran, David Sabus, Dan Sabus and Carey), the distance medley relay (James Fitzpatrick, Greg Carey, Joe Towers and Sabus), the 200-meter dash (Doran), the 400-meter dash (Dan Sabus) and the long jump (Sabus) in 1987.
Five athletes have secured track and field state titles in Paton-Churdan’s athletic history, four of which attended school in the 1980s.
Dave Tucker won the 110-meter hurdle title in 1982, Chad Paup won the 1986 pole vault title while Lant Doran won the long jump in 1986. Jeff Miller is Paton-Churdan’s most recent state-champion, winning the 400-meter hurdles in 1995.
Doran’s run to the 1987 state meet was as improbable as they come, shaking off nagging injuries which forced him to make his 400-meter season debut at the district meet of all places, flipping it into a district title, assuring him a return to state. Doran won a 1986 state title in the 1A long jump and nearly missed out on returning to Des Moines as a whole after suffering a poor performance in the long jump.
Though he failed to defend his state title, Doran produced a fifth-place finish in state 400-meter dash in only his second running of the event all season, coming in at 56.6. He also was a member of the 4x800-meter relay team that finished sixth overall with a time of 1:34.
The 1987 distance medley relay came in fourth (3:43), breaking a school-record which had stood for 14 years. The 4x400-meter relay finished fifth overall with a time of 3:29.9,
So while the state of the track program is bleak today, fans of Paton-Churdan can look back and know they were one of the elite schools in the state in the 1980s.