Members of Elkhorn’s 1956-58 state championship track relay teams gather for a commemorative luncheon Sept. 25 at Someplace Else. From the left are: Jon Anzalone, track team members Richard Van Scotter, Bill Riese, Jon Platts, Gary Ellsworth and Roger Van Scotter, Dan Kiel and John Handel. The crew spent a couple of hours at the restaurant, catching up and sharing memories of their high school days. (Dave Dresdow photo)

Championship relay team members commemorate program’s start

By Kellen Olshefski


Members of Elkhorn’s 1956 to 1958 high school track relay team gathered at Someplace Else recently for a special luncheon. Elkhorn Area High School’s athletic department and other district staff joined them to commemorate the start of the track program and its 1958 state championship.

Author and historian Richard Van Scotter, a 1957 graduate of Elkhorn Area High School and former track star who now lives in Colorado Springs, said the idea for the Sept. 25 gathering was born out of the team’s annual reunion at the Elkhorn Booster Club’s Athletic Hall of Fame event.

Van Scotter said he typically returns to Elkhorn each fall to attend the event, though it – and a reunion for the Class of ’58 – was canceled this year.

“There’s a group of us from the Southern Lakes Conference back in the 1950s, about ’54 to ’60, that would come together in Elkhorn,” he said. “We’d just come together for lunch and talk. When the first hall of fame came up in 2015, we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Van Scotter said since he already had airplane reservations for the trip, he reached out to his brother Roger, a 1958 graduate living in California, who still wanted to make the trip as well.

“So, I called up the guys from our relay teams from 1956 to ‘58,” he said, noting that of the seven on the team there are three surviving members other than he and his brother.

“They said, yeah, let’s get together, so we met at Someplace Else that Friday,” he said.

With the plans in motion, Van Scotter said he came up with an idea and reached out to Elkhorn Athletic Director John Handel.

“I said, do you have a gold baton that we could get ahold of, we could all sign it and then you could put it in the trophy case? He thought that was a great idea. In fact, he took it and ran with it,” Van Scotter said.

He said Handel reached out to EASD’s Community Engagement Coordinator Jon Anzalone and Elkhorn Area High School Principal Dan Kiel and asked them to join the luncheon.

“It was enjoyable getting together with the guys again,” Van Scotter said. “It was a little extra special, because I contacted John Handel, and he reached out to Jon Anzalone, and we got this event going. I was really pleased to see that they thought it was a great idea to enhance this thing.”


The early days of track

According to Van Scotter, who has written a book on the early days of track in Elkhorn titled “Thin Clads,” the 1958 track team is the only one to win a state track championship, taking seven golds at the event that year.

Team members from the 1956-58 relay team included Richard and Roger Van Scotter, Gary Ellsworth, Jon Platts, Bill Reise, Ron Pearsall and Bill Ward, the latter two of which have passed in recent years.

Van Scotter said he was a freshman in high school when the track program first started in the spring of 1954, the same academic year that the Southern Lakes Conference was launched.

“Two of the high school kids went to the football coach and wanted to start a track team because they wanted to have something to do to stay in shape in the spring,” he said.

“These high school heads, they did it all. They went down to the shop and built hurdles. They dug out pits and went down and got sand from Williams Bay. They built stations for high jumps and pole vaults. One of them took the athletic director’s car and drove to Madison to get equipment, shoes, batons, shotput and discus,” Van Scotter said.

“Those guys started the track program,” he added.

At the time of the state championship, Van Scotter said the track team was just four years old and largely comprised of students who played both baseball and track, including those members of the relay team.

“Can you imagine that? We’d go out to the baseball field for about 45 minutes to an hour, and then we’d run over to the track,” he said.

The team first attended the state track meet in 1956, returned in 1957 to place second – losing the first place position by just a single point. When the team returned the following year in 1958, it brought the state track championship title home to Elkhorn, which Van Scotter said is the only state track title in the school’s history.

Throughout those years, Elkhorn track stars Richard and Roger Van Scotter, Bill Ward and Jon Platts would all be awarded the American Legion Athletic Achievement Medal.

Van Scotter said with the team members getting older, the recent get-together, was special.

“Who knows, we may not get together again, so this was a nice opportunity,” he said. “We get together, a little bit, but this was just extra special because it was extended, we had time to chat quite a bit.”


Comments are closed

Sorry, but you cannot leave a comment for this post.