MATTAWA — This small Columbia Basin town in central Washington, known for its orchards and nearby Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams, is slowly shaping the culture of the athletic community, adding a prominent track and field presence to its successful ties to soccer.
Mattawa might not take over the title of “Track Town, USA”, but longtime teacher and coach Joel Dugan is making his pitch to bring some of the world’s greatest athletes to influence the track and field world by the Columbia River.
Last year, with the help of Desert Aire resident and former Olympic gymnast Caroline Pingatore Holmes, they brought in U.S. Olympian and high jump innovator Dick Fosbury. Fosbury, considered one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field when he revolutionized the high jump and won the gold medal at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games.
Wahluke High School will again be the center of world-class attention this year when they bring in silver medalist and former triple jump world record holder Willie Banks, current long jump world record holder Mike Powell, along with several other track and field Olympians.
The second annual World Record Camp, featuring Banks, Powell, gold medalist Andre Phillips, U.S. Olympian Erin Aldrich and others, is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. March 23 at Wahluke High School.
“Soccer is always going to be big here with our numerous state titles and multiple runners-up,” said Dugan, who is heading into his third season as the Warriors head track coach. “But by bringing in the Olympians with all the coaching they provide, it’s amazing how quickly our athletes blossom. I think the boys are going to contend for a SCAC East championship this season and this will be a great motivator.”
Banks set the world record in the triple jump June 16, 1985 when he went 58 feet, 11 ½ inches at the national championships in Indianapolis. His record stood for over 10 years until Jonathan Edwards broke it in 1995 with a mark of 60-?5 1/2.
“The kids respond differently to older generations,” Dugan said. “With Fosbury, the kids really didn’t get (how important his contribution to track and field really was), but when they took their lunch break and I saw them Googling him on their phones.
“They came back from the break with a better understanding of who they were talking to and were much more receptive.”
This year’s participants would do themselves a favor and get on Google before they meet Banks near the banks of the Columbia River.
The former U.S. Olympian was inducted into the USA National Track Hall of Fame in 1999 and is the originator of the now common hand clap that takes place during the jumping events to motivate the contestants.
Banks, who broke the American triple jump in 1981, earned his bachelor’s degree from UCLA, was awarded the Track & Field News and United States Olympic Committee Athlete of the Year in 1985 and was also a Jesse Owens Award, considered the Heisman Trophy of track and field.
Powell, who won the silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, broke Bob Beamon’s 23-year-old record (29-2 1/2) at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo when he went 29-4 ¼. Powell’s world record (August 1991) still stands, making him the fourth competitor since 1900 to hold the long jump world record for over 20 years. He also won the silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
For more information visit https://www.athletic.net/TrackAndField/meet/353486/info.