THE EARLY LEAD: Scranton’s boys’ 1960s track dynasty was lightning quick and remarkably consistent
By BRANDON HURLEY
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was produced with references to archived issues of the Jefferson Bee & Herald, the Scranton Journal and the Des Moines Register.
Talent isn’t grown, it’s born.
The most prolific era of track and field in Scranton High School’s history proved that notion nearly 60 years ago despite a lack of proper training facilities.
The Scranton boys’ track and field program was the epitome of dominance in the 1960s, winning nine state titles across a four year span, placing top 10 as a team four times, highlighted by a controversial runner-up finish.
The Trojans also earned a pair of individual indoor state titles, which led to three top five team finishes.
A lack of a track did little to slow Scranton, as they found ways to train and cruised past competitors, anchored by brilliant relays and a quickness that hasn’t been matched since.
The fastest man in Iowa history is arguably Clyde Duncan.
But Scranton High School’s Bruce MacDonald put quite the scare in Iowa’s most prolific track star in the 1960s.
The Greene County newspaper archives are an incredible resource of history. This much is obvious.
My research for this piece originated with Bruce MacDonald but blossomed into so much more. This spring marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning to the most impressive stretch in Scranton boys track.
ANCHORED BY A LEGEND
Scranton was powered by the brilliant speed of Bruce MacDonald, a 1964 graduate. The sprinter was world-class, one of only three Iowa high school athletes ever to win three consecutive 220-yard dash state titles (Iowa has run the 200-meter dash since the 1970s). MacDonald’s rare feat was only matched by Des Moines North’s Clyde Duncan (62-64 in Class 3A) and Des Moines North’s Jim Kirby (65-67).
MacDonald is the only Class 1A athlete in history to win the 220-yard dash three times straight. The former Trojan was brilliant on the track, forever etched in Iowa lore as the 1A 220-yard dash record-holder, running to an incredible time of 21.3 seconds at the 1964 state meet. The state of Iowa transitioned to metered races in 1978, with MacDonald still on top as the 220-yard record-holder.
MacDonald made quite the impact on the Iowa record books during his four-year career in Scranton, securing three individual state titles in addition to three relay championships for a total of six outdoor titles, setting the all-time Scranton High School mark. He compiled eight state titles in all when his indoor track success is factored in. MacDonald won back-to-back indoor state titles in the 50-yard dash, tying the Class C state record in 1964 with a time of 5.6 seconds, a mark that still stands today. Iowa high schools no longer run the 50-yard dash.
The superstar certainly produced at least one noteworthy interaction with the legendary Duncan, pushing the champion at the 1964 the Drake Relays. Duncan was well on his way to becoming one of the most famous sprinters in state history, eventually setting the Iowa prep record for most individual state titles with nine.
MacDonald gave Duncan quite the scare that spring.
MacDonald burst out of the blocks and opened a momentary lead in the 100-yard dash final, finishing with a personal-best time of 9.8 seconds (which would have been the Class C state record). But Duncan was at his absolute peak, stunning the adoring Drake Relays crowd with an even more remarkable jaunt. Duncan pulled away from the tense start, finishing nearly eight yards in front of MacDonald, running to an incredible time of 9.3 seconds. If not for a strong wind at their backs, Duncan’s winning time would have been the fastest 100-yard finish in Drake Relays history - among athletes in high school, college or amateur.
“Whooee. I don’t believe it. Not 9.3,” Duncan was quoted in an AP article.
Duncan would go on to produce a remarkable track career, winning three individual state titles in back to-back seasons (100, 220, 440-yard dash) and later helped break the 4x100 world record and became known as the “World’s Fastest Human” in 1965 during his freshman year at Texas Southern.
Duncan was inducted into the National Federation of State High School Association Hall of Famer and is a Drake Relays Hall of Fame inductee in addition to being a member of the SWAC Hall of Fame. He coached track at Arizona State, Washington and Houston and is currently the head track coach at Texas Southern.
MacDonald was a standout in his own right, also earning silver medals in the 100-yard dash and the 440-yard run his senior year in 1964 as well as a silver medal in the 100-yard dash in 1963.
MacDonald’s career wasn’t without its fair share of controversy, which later led to a momentary dispute of the team title in 1964. The senior was robbed of a state title in the 100-yard dash that year, which still remains a mystery today. After a false start delayed the opening of the race, it was believed, through first hand accounts and reported by the Scranton Journal (May 21, 1964), that another runner had left his starting block before the start gun on the second attempt, which seemed to throw off MacDonald, forcing him to be a step or two slow out of the blocks. Observers and perhaps even MacDonald, expected another re-start, which may have led to the senior’s slow release out of the blocks (Scranton Journal, May 21, 1964). Dexfield’s Jim Cave eventually beat out MacDonald, with a state record-tying 9.7. Despite the slow start, MacDonald still managed to run a 9.8, which also was faster than the previous state record of 10.1 seconds. Cave’s victory was a much sought after bit of revenge, having lost to MacDonald each of their seven previous meetings prior to the 1964 state meet. His title-winning mark remained the top time in state history until Iowa discounted the event and transitioned to the 100-meter dash in 1978.
MacDonald also lost the 100-yard dash in 1963 after another controversial finish. He ran the race in 10 seconds flat but Paulina’s Doug Skinner was gifted the championship among some dispute. He sought revenge by absolutely crushing the field in the 220-yard dash in 1963, winning by five yards with a wind-aided time of 22.5 seconds
A TEAM EFFORT
MacDonald surely wasn’t a one-man band, he had plenty of talent to surround himself in Scranton. The Trojans began their track and field prowess back in 1961, setting the table for a stretch run never since matched.
Scranton’s relay quartet of Don Thornton, Don Hupp, David Neary and Jim McDonald were a force to be reckoned with across a four year span from 1961-64. The grouping broke a pair of state records en route to two titles at the 1964 state meet. They shattered the old mile medley relay time, finishing in 3:40.3 - a full three seconds quicker than the previous record set in 1956 (3:43.7).
This race was also not without its fair share of controversy, which seemed to tail the Trojans every year they appeared in Des Moines.
Dexfield’s relay was derailed by a runner who was knocked over, though the eventual state champions still managed to finish fourth, likely securing the team title in the process.
The Scranton Trojan quartet also set a new mark in their mile relay championship-winning sprint, finishing in 3:34.5 which was only four-tenths of a second better than the old record (3:34.9).
The Trojans finished runner-up as a team at the 1964 state meet, just a single point behind Dexfield, who scored 33 points. If MacDonald happens to beat Cave in the controversial 100-yard dash, Scranton is state champion, denying Dexfield of back-to-back state titles. The Trojans brought just five athletes to the state meet but captured three championships. Dexfield, located in Dexter just east of Stuart, was an absolute track dynasty back then, securing their second straight team title in 1964. No other school was even close to the top two of Scranton and Dexfield - PCM was third with 14 points.
The Trojan boys were coached by Leo McElrath, which led to four straight top 10 team finishes, highlighted by three event titles in 1964. Scranton propelled itself off a sixth-place finish a year prior, piloted by MacDonald’s second 220-yard title.
The Trojans consistently produced one of the top relay outlets in the state. Scranton was fourth as a team in 1962, only one point behind third-place Sioux Rapids with 24 points thanks to three state titles. MacDonald won his first 220-yard title but also anchored the championship-winning 880-yard relay which also included Don Thornton, Don Hupp and Darwin Wright. Hupp, Thornton and Wright were each members of the 440-yard relay-winning team, in addition to David Neary. Thornton and Hupp each won a pair of titles in the 1962 440-yard and 880-yard relays, securing four relay titles apiece.
Moville captured the state title in 1962 with 35 points.
Scranton’s reign began in 1961, finishing fifth as a team thanks to a pair of event titles. The quartet of Warren Calder, Neal Hoyt, Bruce MacDonald and Darwin Wright broke the 880-yard relay state record by a full second, finishing in a time of 1:34.1. The old record was 1:35.4. They also captured the 440-yard relay title (their first of back-to-back 440-yard championships) with a record-breaking time of 44.5 seconds.
Thornton finished his career with four relay titles while Darwin Wright finished his prep career with a trio of relay titles.
All six of the Scranton’s relay state titles in the school’s history came during the span from 1961-1964.
It was a decade of speed, celebration and resilience, wrapped up into an impressive package. As we still recover from last year’s lost season, it’s never been more important to recognize the past.
It all can be taken away in such little time. The honor will forever be Scranton’s.