Spring Valley High School has long been a recognized power in South Carolina Track & Field. The tradition was begun in the mid-1970.s by then Coach Mike Bozeman, who is now the head Track & Field coach at Virginia Military Institute. State championships by the team and individuals, as well as State Records were experienced. So the fact that Spring Valley should host an event like The Bojangles' Track Classic is not surprising. The way that the event started and grew to its current status makes for an interesting, and at times, an unlikely story.
When Mike Bozeman left Spring Valley, John Jones was completing graduate school at USC in Columbia. He had just finished his tour of duty in the United States Army, and was looking for a job. He heard about the track opening from a buddy in grad school and was hired. The fact that John had run track at the United Stated Military Academy and set the school record in the 55m hurdles helped in his selection as the head coach. John.s first year saw his team finish 3rd in the state. Going into his second year, he needed an assistant and approached Rick Crumpler, a first year football assistant coach about assisting with track. Rick, having been a shot putter in high school, agreed and a very interesting team was formed.
At first, rebuilding the team was difficult, and successes were few and far between. The corner was turned in 1987, as the team won the region and finished 5th at the state meet. As the number of top level athletes in the track program increased, John started looking for opportunities to compete on a bigger stage than just in South Carolina. The Vikings started to attend a limited number of indoor meets as a track club, and in 1989, Brian Evans won 3rd place in the shot put at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships held that year in Annapolis. Other trips to the "indoor nationals " followed and the team continued to do a limited indoor season. The successes in outdoor track continued with State Championships in 1988, 1989, and 1991. While on these many odysseys, John and Rick had many chances to talk and dream about the possibility of having a major multi-state meet closer to home. It was in 1991 that the first seeds for the Bojangles' Track Classic were sown.
Harry Parone Stadium, on the Spring Valley campus, was long known to be an outstanding venue for football and track. The only problem was that the track was clay. This greatly limited the ability to have major meets. In the fall of 1990, the school district, with much prodding from then principal, Dr. Ben Nesbit, put down an all-weather track in Parone Stadium. John then decided that Spring Valley would host an invitational in the spring of 1991. The first meet was held as the Spring Valley Track & Field Classic. Thirteen teams attended that year, and the oldest meet record was set them. Norman Greene, from Sumter, ran 13.80 in the 110 high hurdles. The record still stands. All of the 13 schools in attendance that first year were from South Carolina. But that was the first and only time for that.
In the second year, the meet was sanctioned in three southeastern States; South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. The number of schools increased to 28. This still does not seem like an overwhelming number, except that everything was done by hand; all the invitations mailed out, all the entry forms sorted, all the heat & flight sheets arranged and set-up, and everything copied for meet day. In addition, the stadium had to be set up for the meet. With the number of teams entered and the arrangement of the field event sites in the stadium, there was a need for a second long jump pit. The pit was dug and sand was in it, but there was no runway. On Thursday night before the meet, there we were, along with then distance coach, Mike Fronsoe and the school janitor, in the stadium . at night . the stadium lights on . mixing concrete from bags of Quickrete, until the wee hours of the morning. We got it poured and cured just in time for the Saturday meet by rolling out the roll-out runway over it. Then the heat sheets had to be collated, stapled, and copied . all by hand. By the time teams began arriving on Saturday morning, we were exhausted, but we pulled it off.
The third year, 1993, saw another explosion in the number of teams attending. The sanctioning was expanded to include most of the southeast United States, and we had approximately 45 schools attending. If we thought setting up the previous year had been exhausting, we had no idea what 1993 had in store. We were still doing all the entries and heat sheets by hand. We finished setting up the stadium, went inside and finished the heat sheets and headed for the copy room in the school. At 3:00 AM we had finished, and headed home for a good night.s sleep before meeting back at the school at 6:00 AM to do the final meet day preparations. We were all dead tired, but the meet continued to grow and the performances were continuing to improve, and once again we pulled it off and had a great meet.
In the fall of 1993, Kevin Shaw was hired as a Science teacher at Spring Valley. He had some experience in track and was an avid runner and began to help with the team. Little did he know what surprises lay in wait. While in Syracuse, NY, at the NSIC, we milled around the exhibit room at the host motel and noticed the HyTek table. We started asking questions and soon realized that their Meet Manager program was the answer to a prayer. We had all sworn after the 1993 meet, that without computer assistance we were all quitting. John didn.t know if this was a bluff or not. But anyway, we got HyTek and started using it. We already had electronic timing with the old video systems that connect to a VCR. Now we were in the big-time, or so we thought. We still had to make all entries into the computer. Again, we were overworked and underpaid, and did not have the time to do everything. The 1994 meet was also the year in which the girls. soccer team at Spring Valley had a match the night before the meet in the stadium. It started at 7:00 and was finally decided by penalty kicks. We started setting up the field at 10:00 that night. So, we just assumed that it was not meant to get home early on the night before the meet and did what we had to do.
The meet continued to grow in prestige and somewhat in numbers over the next few years. Teams from out of state continued to attend and we usually had the top teams from South Carolina. We also had changes at the school with coaches. Kevin became the head girls coach, and was able to hire Tom Cronin as an assistant. Tom had been an outstanding distance runner in college and was a major addition. Also, Chip Belka was hired as a Science teacher and joined on with the track programs. Chip had been a 6. 8" high jumper in high school and was another young, enthusiastic coach. Jeff Buys, one of John.s former runners, became the head track and cross country coach at another local school and was always willing to help. Without all of these individuals and there untiring efforts, the meet would not be what it is today.
When we started the meet, we wanted to organize the meet in such a way that teams would want to come. In the early years, we had some JV races in some events, and also had some Master.s events. These races attracted some top adult age group competition and were fun to watch. As the Meet grew and the number of entries increased, there was not enough time in the schedule to accommodate these events, so they were discontinued. While, some of the regulars in these events were disappointed, we had to do it to expand the high school meet.
As we became more technology literate, we began to take advantage of these modern conveniences. We, but mainly Kevin, developed a meet website. This greatly increased our visibility nationally. We also took the lead from some other meets and began to use Direct Athletics to facilitate meet entries. With utilization of this service, we could now accomplish in just a couple of hours total, what it use to take several of us many hours to do. In 2003, we also were able to obtain a FinishLynx system. This was made possible by the generous donations of one of our athletes. parents and Mr. Fred Kotoske, the owner of the local TACO BELL Restaurants and the actual meet sponsor. Now, we no longer needed people to read the finish tape and enter the results in the computer. It was now all accomplished with a few clicks of the mouse. In 2004, we added FieldLynx so we could have all the attempts of the field contestants and not have to type all this in. Again, technology allowed us to do quickly and effortlessly what it used to take countless hours to accomplish.
A big surprise came in 2001, when the National Scholastic Sports Foundation selected the Bojangles' Track Classic to be one of their NSSF Select Meets for that season. This was a new program by the NSSF, and the Bojangles' Track Classic was much honored to be one of the original NSSF Select Meets. Over the years, throughout their travels to meets, John and Kevin had met and developed a professional relationship with the founders of the NSSF, Jim Spier, Mike Byrnes, and John Blackburn. John B lived in Charleston, SC, and through his involvement in the state track officials association, had helped officiate the meet in prior years. This recognition came about as a complete surprise, since it was not a designation that we had solicited, and we were all much honored. But with this designation came new pressure to put on a better and better meet. It was pressure that was embraced.
Our motto over the years has been, "Put on the best meet anywhere and make it a little better each year." That would be an absolutely impossible task without the help of so many people over the years that have offered to help. Once a list is started, someone is bound to be left off, but here goes anyway. Many coaches from other schools such as Jim and Eileen Kilbreath of Spartanburg (Now Summerville), Jeff Buys of Ridgeview (Now Dorman), Bob Jenkins of Northwestern (Now South Pointe), Coach Wilson and Coach Crowley of Summerville and all of their assistants who have always jumped in and helped in a bind, and many, many others, have made the meet possible. The many people in the Spring Valley community such as Debbie Cronin, Peggy Clement, Coach Noonan, Coach Bonneville, Coach Wilson (now at a rival school), Coach Fronsoe (in the early years), the late Janet Myers (the athletic secretary for many years) and others have all generously given of their time and energy over the years to make the meet a success. And as anyone who has attended the meet can attest, the meet would not be the same without our starter, Tom Malik. We have also had many students at Spring Valley volunteer to help with many of the never-ending tasks that have to be done at a major meet. Perhaps the biggest praise over the years should go to the parents who have manned the concession stand. As those of you who have attended can attest, they do an incredible job for which they receive only the personal satisfaction of contributing to a worthwhile event.
From the beginning we felt that we needed to do several things to develop a reputation that would encourage teams to attend. First and foremost, we had to run off the meet efficiently. Next, we had to make sure that we were attracting top competition. Then to make sure that coaches and athletes wanted to come, we needed to give the coaches a lot of food and give the athletes a lot of awards. We have been fortunate that the facility at Parone Stadium has the camera decks to provide the perfect space for a coaches. hospitality area. This has been staffed for many years by Coach Jones.s wife, Liz. From the beginning, four team trophies were awarded and individual awards were given through eight places. Moreover, several special awards have given at each meet. We think that we have succeeded in providing lots of food for the coaches and plenty of awards for the athletes.
None off this could have been possible without the generous contributions of our meet sponsor, Mr. Fred Kotoske. We actually had several sponsors in the early years, but none of these proved to be long term. While John was teaching P.E. he had a female student with the last name of Kotoske. At school open house events, John and Fred met and John and the long running sponsorship has begun. When our original sponsor decided to discontinue the relationship, John approached Fred about the idea and he eagerly accepted. One can only dream of having an event sponsor like Fred. He has never turned down a request to improve the meet and make it more visible. He provides lunch for the coaches in the hospitality area every year and has contributed to many other aspects of the meet, perhaps the most visible one being the FinishLynx system. We will all be eternally grateful to Fred for all of his contributions. After the 2016 meet Fred sold his local Taco Bell franchises. Starting with the 2017 meet, Bojangles' became the primary meet sponsor.
But a meet is just another meet without quality competition. And boy, have we had it. As shown on the message on the front page, 5 Bojangles' .alums. participated in the 2004 Olympics. The meet has hosted future NCAA championships, NFL players and All-Pros, national record holders, and national event leaders. The first year saw the inaugural records, and one still stands . Norman Greene in the 110 m High hurdles. And in all the events the performers have been just as impressive. In the boy.s sprints, we were all amazed to see the likes of Xavier Carter, J.Mee Samuels, Mike Lloyd, Airese Curry, Troy Williamson, Cedric Goodman, Reggie Witherspoon, Justin Oliver, Milton Campbell, Jay Cooper and Tye Hill blaze their way to the finish line. Anyone in attendance in 2000 will never forget Alan Webb clock a national leading time in the 1600. Overlooked by some that day was Ricky Brookshire from Watauga. He ran 4:14 and 9:06 for an incredible distance double and finished second in both races. The hurdles have seen some of the great hurdlers in the nation, and the 400 IH have been especially thrilling because so few states run the event. The relays have been exciting to watch, but the 4x400 has not produced exceptionally fast times, which we attribute to being the last event in a long day of track and field, but in 2004 some schools from Georgia started what we hope is a trend toward better 4x400 relays, with 3 teams at 3:18 or better and the meet record of 3:15 being set.
The boys jumps have produce some of the greatest performances in the meet.s history. The years of 1996, 1997 and 1998 saw unbelievable performances. David Furman leaped to a national season leading high jump performance of 7. 4" in 1996, Greg Yeldell skipped in to the record book in 1997 with a 50. 10" triple jump, and Jamorya Funderburk soared into the record book with a long jump of 25. 2" in 1998. The pole vault has seen some of the nation.s best over the years with 3 vaulters of prominence from the Palmetto State - Mitch Greeley, Chase Shealey and Spring Valley.s own Greg Royster . Along side the pole vault in the stadium we witnessed Cleveland Pinckney and Reece Hoffa go toe to toe and throw to throw in 1997.
While it would seem difficult to match those performers and performances, the girls just might do it. The girl.s sprints are a virtual who.s who of sprinters in the southeast and the nation with names like Monique Hennagan, Crystal Cox and Shana Cox, Courtney Champion, Tierra McLaurin, Demetria Washington, and Amberly Nesbit. In the distance races Kelly Otstott, Brittany Hall, Julia Lucas ( the queen of negative splits ), Kelly Parrish, Laura Stanley, Laura Cummings and Kate Niehaus all made us marvel and be thankful that we were among the lucky few that witnessed something extraordinary. And we are all still in awe of the competitiveness and talent of McKenzie Pierce and Sarah Bowman in that sensational 800m race in 2004. In the hurdles, we fortunately saw the Taylor twins from Watauga in 1997 dazzle the crowd and Rachel Wilson set a new standard of excellence as she set both hurdle records in 2003. And we are all very grateful for some dedicated coaches from New York that brought the Tilden girls and the Bayshore girls to set the records in the 4x400 and the 4x800 relays
The field events have had their share of excitement and wonderment, too. The long jump in 2002 with Kemesha Whitmire and Vonteena Knotts compete jump after jump. Little did we know of the future career of Nicole Gamble when she set the triple jump record. We watched Lindsay Taylor and Alicia Alford dazzle us with repeatedly with their gracefulness in jump after jump in the high jump. The girls throws saw the most intense competition in 2004 as Khadija Talley and Kamorean Hayes both refused to shy away from the competition. The women have been perhaps the most astonishing in the pole vault as this has gone from a new event in 1999 to one of the most exciting and competitive events at the meet.
After the 2016 meet Fred Kotoske sold his local Taco Bell franchises. Starting with the 2017 meet, Bojangles' became the primary meet sponsor.
These young athletes and thousands of others over the last 27 years have made all the effort, frustration, fatigue and long nights worth it. We started out with a goal of developing a national caliber meet in South Carolina, and while some could say that we have achieved it, we continue to strive to improve the meet year in and year out. To all the coaches, athletes, and fans that have attended over the years, we thank you for your attendance. You have honored us and enriched our lives and the sport of Track and Field by your presence. We look forward to many more years of dazzling performances, fierce competition, photo finishes, national leaders, and to
"Putting on the best meet anywhere and making it a little better each year."
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