COLUMN: '98 state champs had what it took

Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

     To win the 1998 state boys track championship, the first-ever team title in Monticello High School history, the Panthers needed several elements, and had them all.

     They had confidence.

     “Great senior leadership,” said coach Greg Williams, who began as Panther head coach in 1995 and has held that position ever since. “They said they were going to win state when they were freshmen.”

     They had ability.

     “We had some very good middle distance runners, and the 1998 group had a very good work ethic,” said Donnie Kremer, the team’s assistant coach since 1998.

     They had strong performances that foretold of a possible state title.

     “We qualified five events for Drake (Relays), always a good sign,” Williams said.

     Kremer agreed: “I think the Drake Relays that year was a very good meet for us. With the way we ran against the best in the state, I think we had an idea we could be a contender.”

     They had a strong start at the 1998 state meet, with Matt Cook winning the 3,200 in what many considered an upset over Eldora-New Providence runner Ryan Pence.

     “Matt ran an incredible race that day,” Kremer recalled. “Pence had run well at the Drake Relays. But Matt ran the perfect race and upset him.”

     It was the first individual state champion in Williams’ tenure. More importantly, it gave the Panthers some needed early points.

     “It was the first event,” Williams said. “It really set the tone for the meet.”

     And, those Panthers had what it took to close out the title. Back then, the boys’ and girls’ state meets were held in separate weeks, and each was a two-day event.

     “Coach Kremer had figured out the night before (Saturday’s finals) which teams had a shot and how many points they could score. Mitch and Matt Cook both had to do well in the 800 and 1600 for us to win. They knew what they had to do and did it,” Williams said.

     Matt Cook took second in the 1600, and Mitch, in the team’s final event, was second in the 800.

     “I remember tallying the scores after the 800 meter run,” Kremer said. “I told Greg that I believed we had won it, but I was not sure about the West Lyon team. I think the team knew they had won it, but wanted to hear it over the speaker.”

     Williams added: “I wouldn’t believe it for sure until the 4x400 was over and they put the team scores on the big screen.”

     Scoring was different back then, with individual events scoring seven points for first place, five for second, and then 4-3-2-1 to round out the top six. Relays were scored 10-8-6-4-2-1. Which explains how the Panthers were able to win the title with just 33 points. West Lyon was second with 29.

     A raucous welcome-home awaited the first-ever state championship Panther team that night.

     “There was a tremendous turnout of people down (First) Street,” Williams said. “It was all a little overwhelming.”

     Kremer agreed: “The homecoming we got was unbelieveable. Winning the title really did not sink in until we got into town that evening. There was a reception at the old high school parking lot where a huge crowd had gathered.”

     Monticello has since won three more state boys track titles, along with four state championships in boys cross country and two in girls cross country.

     But it all started with the 1998 Panthers.

     “This team showed what was possible. So other teams believed they could do it too,” Williams said.



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