Armstrong: Old meets new and is new again during the Kane County Meet at East Aurora's new field

Sunday, May 6 2018 - Kane County Invitational (Boys)

Armstrong: Old meets new and is new again during the Kane County Meet at East Aurora's new field

Rick Armstrong
Rick ArmstrongThe Beacon-News

Two things were certain Friday night at the 100th edition of the Kane County Meet. Retro is cool, but so is brand spanking new.

Both were obvious when East Aurora hosted its first track invitational in the school’s new stadium. It’s the first county meet held by the Tomcats since 2001.

Thanks to the work of East Aurora athletic director Ben Williams, Tomcats coach Shane Gillespie, the high school’s staff and plenty of volunteers, it went off without a hitch.

They got it right.

And give Ralph Drendel — Kane County Meet historian, former Kaneland coach and all-around good guy — an assist in helping to get a good turnout of “old-timers” who were honored during introductions before the running events.

Much of the focus was on the 1983 East Aurora team, which won the Tomcats’ last of a meet-best 25 team titles. West Aurora has 22 and John Bell, who coached the Blackhawks to a record 13 titles, was there.

So was oldest living champion, 91-year-old Paul Bergeson, who won the shot put in 1945 while competing for Batavia. The former St. Charles athletic director also coached the Saints to their first team title in 1960.

Kaneland’s athletes continued what has become the annual tradition of breaking out their orange uniform tops that date to the mid-1970s. Some wore the originals, but coach Andy Drendel has replicas, too.

The Knights move up to Class 3A this year and don’t have enough of the old ones to go around.

West Aurora coach Cortney Lamb followed suit after discovering some old Blackhawk jerseys. He ordered remakes featuring a red diagonal stripe on blue and “WA” on the left shoulder with “Blackhawks” vertically down the back.

“Those had to be from back around 1975,” Bell said. “You know, we didn’t have the budget they had at East.”

“It’s a tribute to all the great athletes who have come before us,” Lamb said. “The kids love them.”

Equally impressive? The understanding today’s young athletes had for the tradition of this meet.

Kaneland’s Clayton Hannula, a repeat double-winner in the throws, looks forward this event every year.

“It’s such an awesome meet with so much history,” he said. “We use the orange jerseys, but the rest of the year we go with our really old throwbacks that are black and white, (replicas) from the 1950s.

“At state, I’ll wear my shorts with the (vertical black and white) pinstripes. Nobody knows you’re from Kaneland unless you have those on.”

Teammate Matt Richtman, who won the 1,600 meters in a record-setting time of 4:18.71, agreed.

“This is a special meet without it being the 100th,” he said. “On top of that, this is the meet we start to show our real times and we usually get a lot of (personal records).

“It means a lot to us, being the second-oldest meet in the state (to the state meet). A lot of teams don’t get that opportunity to run in a meet like that.”

Dundee-Crown coach Matthew D’Angelo, in just his second year, said he’s quickly learning about the tradition and importance of the meet.

“Our former coach, Tom Smith, talks about it all the time, and leading up to this one sent me notes with information for the kids about our legacy,” D’Angelo said. “I’m beginning to see why he likes it so much. I need to get him to come back and help me.”

Old meets new and is new again.

East Aurora officials might want to adopt that sentiment and host an annual invitational as well. The shiny facility needs to be put to good use.

Twitter @RickArmstrong28