If you ever travel to the north-central Missouri community of Mexico, it’s best to stop at the high school’s track that doubles as a football field.

There, beyond the north end zone and affixed to the scoreboard is a metal banner touting the success of the Bulldogs’ track & field teams. In fact, be prepared to be left in awe.

But don’t stop there. Go track down a gentleman named Ron Whittaker. He was the longtime coach, and can tell you story after story. All with a big smile, because he certainly has a lot to be proud of. And rightfully so.

In the mid- to late-1970s, the Bulldogs were the real deal on the eight lanes and field events of the Show-Me State, and that’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the 1974-1979 Era of Mexico High School Boys Track & Field with the Class of 2022.

Clearly, the Bulldogs had few peers. They captured three state championships in Class 3 (1975, 1976, 1977) and placed third in 1974 and 1978 and were the state runner-up in 1979.

That gave Mexico a total of six consecutive top three finishes at the state meet.

It all stems from the hard work of the entire roster, as everybody pushed teammates to improvements during the regular-season practices and meets.

State champions were Randy Ezell in the shot put (1974), Andy Piper in the high jump (1974, 1975), James Clark in the high hurdles (1975), Austin Miller in the high hurdles (1976), Regan Fuhrer in the pole vault (1977), Terry Brooks in the high hurdles (1979), Ronnie Miller, Ronnie Hoffman, Adrian Bradshaw and Greg Jackson in the 4×400 relay, Jackson in the 400 meters, and Rodney Henderson in the 100 (1979).

Whittaker began at the high school in 1968. So he saw the rise of the program, and hopes folks know that the early 1970s teams set up Mexico for success.

“Actually, the Mexico track & field winning culture was started with the success of the 1972 and 1973 teams,” Whittaker said. “However, the state classifications at that time were three classes, and we were barely a large school classification, not the four class structure of the 1974 to 1979 time period.

“Had the 1972 and 1973 teams been the same classification as the 1974 to 1979 teams, there would most likely have been two more state championship teams and certainly two more in the top three,” Whittaker said. “The teams of 1974 to 1979 started winning meets against the larger school competition and that carried over to the postseason state meets.”

Competing against larger schools certainly became the norm under Whittaker’s direction. Everybody has heard of the Jefferson City High School Track & Field Program. It was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

Sports fans outside of the track & field community may not know that Mexico would go to the Jefferson City meet and win, beating the Jays in their own backyard.

And, whenever, Mexico hosted, the stands were filled.

That’s correct. Huge crowds turned out to see Mexico. It was hard to blame them. The athletes were exceptional, such as Greg Jackson, who eventually ran for the University of Missouri and was an All-Big Eight Conference sprinter.

“During this time, the home meets were very well-attended, and we had strong community support from local fans,” Whittaker said. “There was very good leadership among the participants in this time period and this competitive, winning attitude kept growing.”m

Typically, across the United States, championship teams have get-togethers years later. Usually in high schools those are for football, basketball and baseball teams that stood atop podiums.

In Mexico, the track & field athletes of 1974 to 1979 have long stayed connected. Even as some have moved several states away.

Whittaker? He’s still around. And despite being in his 70s now, he still gets a kick out of seeing former runners. For him, it’s not that they won state titles or placed high at state, or won conference and district meets. It’s that they’ve since used those lessons and became successful in life.

“Often times, I’m invited to the class reunions of these classes, and the main topic is the track & field teams of these years,” Whittaker said. “These years and young men will always hold a special place in my heart and memories. Keeps me young.”