It’s been more than 40 years since Greenwood Girls Track & Field captured back-to-back state championships in 1978 and 1979. But the achievements of those teams, and the bonds they formed, still stand strong today.
Coached by John Charles, the Blue Jays gave everyone a hint of what may lie ahead when they finished fourth in 1977. The following year, Greenwood powered its way to the first of consecutive Class A championships, winning the state meet by eight points over Edina. The 1979 state meet was more of the same as the Blue Jays edged Barstow for their second straight championship.
Leading the way for both championship teams were twins Flo and Mandy Renner. In the two championship seasons, the Renners combined to win six individual state championships. Flo twice won the individual high jump title, while also taking top honors in the mile run (1979). Mandy was a two-time champion in the 880-yard run, and won the mile in 1978, edging out her twin sister at the finish line.
But it wasn’t just the Renners. Jennifer Frost, a standout in hurdles, left her mark as well, establishing Greenwood records in both the 100-meter and 200-meter hurdles. All told, those Blue Jays teams set a total of seven individual records, five of which still stand today. Those accomplishments are why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to include the 1977-1979 Greenwood High School Girls Track & Field Era among its Class of 2023.
While the athletes were talented, Coach Charles was the guiding force.
“His knowledge built effective workouts, and his personality encouraged and motivated us to do our best each and every day, workout, or meet,” the now Mandy Renner Charles said. “Success in high school enabled us to compete at the college level and earn scholarships, which helped a great deal with college costs.”
He also helped lift his athletes.
“I believe he helped me to be the best athlete I could be not only because of his knowledge and expertise, but also his dedication to a fairly small number of students who participated in track and field,” Flo Renner Graham said. “He was very dedicated to the sport and to us as athletes.”
High school relationships tend to come and go. But something about Greenwood stands out now in a day and age when it’s easy to lose track of people.
“Some of those people had been friends since grade school,” Renner Charles said. “Our friendships are the kind that endure years of separation and lack of communication but remain strong and are present when one reaches out; feeling the same as before.”
Perhaps because of its small size, Greenwood was and is a close-knit school community.
“The camaraderie of belonging to a small group is part of what made our teams so special,” Renner Graham said. “Being connected to one another because of other shared activities at Greenwood. The recognition we received from our schoolmates and teachers when we returned from state meets. People were genuinely excited for us.”
Greenwood Track & Field competed during a time when Title IX legislation was just beginning to take hold and make an impact across the country. The Blue Jays, however, didn’t fully realize they were among the pioneers of the women’s sports movement.
“I’m honored to be thought of as a pioneer,” Renner Charles said. “Although at that time I don’t think most of us understood the significance or importance of Title IX.”
Renner Graham echoed her sister’s sentiments.
“I think it’s awesome if we had any part in encouraging other girls to pursue their athletic goals and dreams,” she said. “I didn’t think much of it at the time other than it was cool that we had the opportunity to participate in sports as freshmen when there weren’t any sports available to us in junior high. We just thought ‘This is so amazing! I can be more than a cheerleader!’”
As the years have flown by, the memories from that time are of more than just the records and championships.
“I remember the closeness of the girls and boys teams, because we practiced and trained together,” Renner Graham said. “We had fun, but we worked really hard at the same time.”
“The long runs to Phelps Grove Park are what I remember,” Renner Charles said. “SOME people cut across the park and maybe even skipped at times!”
“Being so competitive that we would make ourselves physically ill during practice,” Renner Graham recalled.
Now, along with the casual memories, the Greenwood Girls Track Field teams from 1977-79 will be remembered as champions, and Missouri Sports Hall of Famers.