Archive » April 21, 2011
RUSSELLING UP TRADITION
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
On a bright sunny day, athletes from small schools near and far came, in a 92-year-old track and field tradition, to give it their all and go for the gold.
It started as an after-dinner discourse in 1913, when Francis Figg-Hoblyn and Dorman Pischel were looking for something spicier than an end of school picnic – something to engage the entire Carpinteria community. Little did they know their idea of a track meet would blossom into a nearly century-old tradition.
The tradition whose name was coined when the Howland Shaw Russell family donated a silver cup to be awarded to the first school to win the meet three times. The cup went to Carpinteria in 1920, was retired, and Kate Russell donated another.
The tradition continued April 16, when 42 schools and 1,200 athletes made their way to Carpinteria High School to compete. (Results for Santa Ynez High School can be found on page 23.) Lalya Musson, graduated from Carpinteria in 2006, but was back as a volunteer selling admission tickets. “There’s been a lot of parents coming and first-timers,” she says, “but ticket sales so far seem about the same as last year.” Musson was never an athlete herself, but she always enjoyed coming to watch. “My little sister did track, so I was always here to watch her. It’s fun getting to meet people,” she says of her job, and admits she likes sneaking in to observe the occasional event.
In 1918, when the participant list was up to 15 school and 150 athletes, winners received sweaters instead of medals. In 1922, medals were introduced. But today’s version of the same didn’t come about until 1934, when the American Legion post created and donated the round medals picturing the school and inscribed with the words “Russell Cup Meet, Carpinteria.” One by one, events are gaining sponsors and winners take home a medal and a cup.
The meet, one of the oldest in the nation, inspires more than the just the runners, jumpers and throwers. Both the school and the local community members come out to help.
“My dad was a member of the Carpinteria Lions Club and was an official. When I was a little kid, I used to go watch,” says Mike Prather. He still does. Volunteers get a free lunch, but that is not why they do it, many of them say.
Pat Coomey’s baseball team comes out to move the hurdles on and off the field. “It’s a baseball tradition the kids really like. We all go out for doughnuts, then come on over,” he says. Varsity is the morning crew, junior varsity the afternoon. Girls’ softball helps with the field events.
The institution of Russell Cup princesses began 1938, which until 1960 was the only way girls could participate. Two girls from each grade level are voted to the position by their classmates. Dressed in white, they brave the infield’s intense sun to distribute medals and trophies to the top four finishers in each event.
In 1968, the Russell Cup took on the small school format still in use today. In 1974, it took on CIF structure and rules, but it wasn’t until 1994 that girls gained equal access to events. They now participate in all the same contests as the boys.
Over the years, the Carpinteria community has always insured the event has an appropriate forum, building several fields since the meet’s inception. Only one meet was ever held outside Caprinteria, and that was due to the construction of the stadium now in use. Only once was it held in the evening, a 1971 cold, windy and miserable night not to be repeated.
What has often been repeated, however, are the breaking of records and the rising of Russell Cup athletes to state, national and even Olympic heights. “I like to joke that what brings me back each year is the tri-tip,” says Jim Richardson, coach for Valley Christian in Temecula. He ran the high jump, watched his daughter take second and encouraged all the kids. “But truly, this is how a meet should be run. Van (Latham) is such a great guy.”
Latham is the school’s track and field coach and organizer of the event. “The meet was a great success. In addition to great competition, we received many compliments on the meet,” he says. “Many schools say the Russell Cup is their favorite meet. One of the big reasons why is the great help we receive. Over 100 people helped throughout the day to keep the meet running smoothly and efficiently.”
It certainly seems the Russell Cup is a tradition that isn’t going anywhere soon.
“It’s our chance to show the best of our sport,” concluded Latham.