History of the Brooke Relays

By: John L. Davis

On April 11, 1951, several hundred spectators gathered at Wellsburg High School’s Memorial Stadium (dedicated in 1947) to watch the inaugural edition of the Brooke Relays. The event was the first track meet held in Wellsburg since the 1920s. The cinder track itself had been completed just weeks earlier. Local architect and track enthusiast Ralph W. Whitehead designed the layout. Wellsburg topped Follansbee High in the evening’s final event – the mile relay – to claim the team title.
In the years that followed, crowds of more than 1,000 spectators packed the little stadium next to the Ohio River. The meet quickly became a significant annual event on the high school track circuit. Each year, as many as 14 schools participated. Along with the Toronto Relays (begun in 1947) and the Bellaire Relays (begun in 1955) the Brooke Relays comprised the “Triple Crown” of prep track competition in the Ohio Valley.
Wellsburg High School was consolidated into the new Brooke High School in 1969. Bethany College hosted the Relays the following year, but the event was not held again until 1993.
Many talented teams have competed in the Brooke Relays. Wellsburg won the team championship in 1956 and then stunned perennial power Wheeling High at the regional meet. Three years later, Wellsburg won the mile relay to edge Weir High for the team title by 1/12th of a point. At the time, Weir was in its track heyday. Coach Bob Starkey’s forces dominated the valley, winning five OVAC and region team championships (along with three runner-up trophies) and placing as high as third at the state meet. Later, Starkey moved on to coach at Oak Glen. The Golden Bears upset Weir for the 1966 Brooke Relays title – a significant accomplishment given that Oak Glen had no track facility and its team trained in a parking lot.
Over the years the Brooke Relays has seen great performers and great performances. Dozens of state champions have competed here. Several athletes merit special recognition.
Undoubtedly the brightest star ever to shine at the Brooke Relays was Wellsburg’s Bill “Catfish” Hearst. In 1959, Hearst blazed 440 yards in 50.1 seconds (a mark that converts to 49.8 for the shorter metric distance). This effort was phenomenal given that the Wellsburg track was notoriously slow because it was undersized and had extremely tight turns. In his career Hearst won five individual titles at the Relays. He also won three state titles, two Bellaire Relays titles, and a championship at the giant Mansfield (Ohio) Relays.
The longest standing records are Catfish Hearst’s 49.8 400 (1959), Weir High’s 8:14.31 4X800 (Davis, Davis, Glyptis, Smith – 1968) and Gerald Schultze’s 54’ 5 ¾” heave in the shot (1969).
In 1993, the Brooke Relays was resurrected at Brooke High School’s Memorial Stadium and staged for the first time on a synthetic, all-weather track. As the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission sanctioned the change from imperial to metric distance in 1980, the Relays converted its track events to metric distances and converted meet records accordingly. The 3200-meter run and the 300-meter intermediate hurdles were added to the program, as well as a full slate of girls’ events. The WVSSAC had held its first girls’ state track meet in 1975. The pole vault was not contested for many years (beginning around 2001) but was added to the meet program again in 2017.
For a decade, a succession of Brooke High throwers – Leslie Walden (1994 and 1995), Shelly Shalvis (1997), James Karastamatis (1997), Stacey Mullins (1999) and Deidre Davis (2001 – 2003) – dominated the discus under the tutelage of coach Christo Karastamatis.
The premier relay marks in the girls record book belong to Steubenville which ran 50.40 in the 4×100 (Smith, Basil, Jenkins, Christian – 1993) and Euclid which posted 1:45.43 in the 4×200 (Sutton, Chandler, Jernigan, Ross – 2017).
This year’s meet will be held on Friday afternoon, April 19.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Davis competed in the Brooke Relays for Weir High School in the 1960s. He later ran track at West Virginia University and coached at the prep level and for Bethany College.