Mount Pleasant - The last hurrah.
That's what this year's Drake Relays are to the Iowa Wesleyan College track program in general and specifically the four members of the Tigers' men's 4x200 meter relay team.
Iowa Wesleyan earlier this year announced it would be dropping the track program at the end of the 2013-14 season as the college heads in a new direction.
From left, Michael Klostermann, Duane Lee, Raul Becerril and Anthony Harris, members of the Iowa Wesleyan College men's 4x200m relay team, will compete at the Drake Relays Friday in Des Moines.
Photo Courtesy of John Lovretta/The Hawk Eye
So when the IWC men's 4x200 relay team - junior Raul Becerril, Anthony Harris, Jr. and Michael Klostermann and senior Duane Lee - hits the track on Friday afternoon at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, it will indeed be the last hurrah. It wil be the swan song for a program which has produced some outstanding athletes through the years, most recently Stacy (Ticknor) Bourdeau, Floyd Turner and Nigel Talton.
When the Tigers, clad in their white uniform tops, black tights and purple lettering, take to the blue oval on Friday, it will be history in the making. And when the weekend is over, the IWC track program will be history.
For IWC's track program, this is the last hurrah.
"Obviously I've been down since we heard this news. We had to shake it off. Mike and I are talking about running it as a club team, gutting it out. We've been here for three years. Why not finish it off and continue moving forward with our skills, not giving up easily just because they're taking it away," said Becerril, the leadoff leg who comes from Mission, Texas, and is also a wide receiver and kick returner for the IWC football team. "We're having a great season, a lot of ups and downs, knowing that next year we won't have a program for our school."
"Track is the whole reason I came to this school. I still have a lot of stuff to do record-wise. It's the only sport I do," said Harris, a communications major form St. Louis who ran track the last two years at Neosho (Kan.) Community College. "It's going to be a good experience for everybody."
"it's a pretty big deal. I've been wanting to get back there ever since I ran there my senior year in high school. It's just a great feeling walking in there knowing how many great athletes have run on that track," said Klostermann, who ran at Drake Stadium when he was at South Tama High School. "I feel like it's going to be exciting, but it's going to be emotional at the same time just knowing it's our second-to last meet. We've worked hard and given it our best and it's gotten us pretty far."
"It's kind of hard for me being a senior, just because we've put in so much hard work the last few years, taking it from where it started to where we are now," said Lee, who played safety on the IWC football team and who slept in his car during his tow-day trip to Mount Pleasant from his home in Compton, Calif.
The team was put together by second-year head couch Tad Hulst, a former NCAA Division III All-American cross country runner. It will be an emotional weekend for Hulst, as well. He is also head coach of the IWC cross country program, which was cut this year. Hulst wants the 4x200 team to create one last memory that will last a lifetime and perhaps convince the school to bring th program back at some point.
"It's great. Drake is an historic meet, national caliber. It's just a testament to the work these guys have put in, the trust they've put into the training. Just believing in each other to get there," Hulst said. "It's a matter of getting fresh legs under us and having fun with it and enjoying the last couple meets, especially Drake."
The Tigers, who will run in the first heat at 1:03 p.m. Friday, have already been busy making history. They recently ran 1 minute, 29.62 seconds, breaking the old school record of 1:29.70 which had stood since 1988.
IWC is no stranger to history when it comes to competing at Drake Stadium. Bourdreau, Turner and Talton each had some of their best performances at the blue oval. And in 1998, the IWC women's 4x200 relay team of Louise Ayetotche, Nicole Duncan, Nadia Cunningham and Neisha Thompson made history of its own. That quartet shocked the world, shattering the school record and winning the Drake Relays. They go to circle the stadium in their IWC uniforms, proudly waving their Drake Relays flags and smiling the whole way. It was an historic moment for IWC, one the men would dearly love to repeat.
After all, this is the last hurrah for the program with a rich and storied history, one which has left its mark through the years. Now, Becerril, Harris, Klostermann and Lee want to leave a marker of their own, one that will last forever.
It is their swan song, the last hurrah.
"It means a lot. Being from Texas, our Texas Relays is big. Now coming to Iowa, I kept hearing 'Drake Relays. Drake Relays.' I wasn't really sure what it was. I looked into it and I saw what it was and it's a big deal," Becerril said. "It's going to be great. I've heard a lot of great stories about the Drake Relays. I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait."
"Anything can happen, especially at Drake. The atmosphere can throw somebody off. With us, our tema is calm and collected," Harris said. "Our relay tema is strong, but I feel lke I'm the stronger leg. I know my relay team will put me in a good spot and I will put us out there even farther."
"It's nice. W'ere not a very big team, so we're all really close. It's like one big family," Klostermann said. "the last three seasons have been three of the best seasons they've had in about the last 30 years."
"It will be a new experience. I've never been there before. I'm looking forward to the competition and the atmosphere, getting a little history under our belts," Lee siad. "I'm glad I have this opportunity. It's a blessing for our school and our commmunity."
"It's our last hurrah. I hope it kind of leaves a mark in the school that at some point we need to bring this program back. Hopefully they'll take the work they've gotten out of here into the other aspects of their lives," Hulst said.