June 16th - 17th , 2006
By Pete Cava
High schools from the Midwest rank near the top in the 4x400-meter relay about as often as Simon Cowell heaps praise on American Idol performers.
Apparently, nobody told that to Bryan Collins, Zac Sandvig, Ryan Keairnes and Brandon McSkimming of West Des Moines Valley High School, who will line up against the nation’s best at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 16-17.
Collins, Sandvig, Keairnes and McSkimming combined for a three minutes, 13.80 second clocking at the Iowa state meet in Des Moines on May 19. Their preliminary heat performance ranked fifth on the 2006 U.S. prep charts and shattered the 27-year-old state championship record of 3:16.6 by Indianola.
“It was unbelievable,” said Valley coach Dave Cochran. “We thought that to break the state record, we’d have to run a low 3:16. I thought we could run 3:15 on a really great day. But there was no way in the world I thought we’d run 3:13.80.”
The race also touched off calls for disqualification.
The members of the Valley squad were still catching their collective breath when protests began flying. It seems that while Collins, Sandvig, Keairnes and McSkimming all were clad in Valley’s red singlets and shorts, an inch or two of Collins’s white compression shorts were visible below his uniform shorts.
His teammates wore black. “I noticed it when he got into the blocks,” said Cochran. “Collins has black compression shorts, but his white ones fit better. He wore the same attire for the 4x1 earlier in the day.”
Mason City Globe Gazette blogger Kirk Hardcastle was among those who felt the Valley squad should be disqualified. While Hardcastle doesn’t think it should be a rule in the first place – “I don’t think anybody really cares what color shorts runners have,” he wrote – he believes Valley’s performance should have been thrown out.
“Why have a rule if you are not going to enforce it?” wrote Hardcastle. “It shouldn’t be a hit or miss thing. Just because Valley set an all-time record in the event shouldn’t be reason not to disqualify a team. . . . There can’t be a double standard.”
Calling the sartorial mix-up “an honest mistake,” Cochran said he didn’t discuss the protest with either his athletes or the officials. “I didn’t say anything at all,” he added. “I stayed out of it. I didn’t think it was my part. I didn’t want it to appear in any way, shape or form that I was campaigning, one way or the other. We’re not above the rules. I guess my personality is that what’s done is done.”
At first, Cochran was more concerned about Valley’s announced lineup. After fielding one lineup for the district meet, Cochran changed it for state. When the announcer at the state championships gave Valley’s lineup, however, it was the order from the district meet. “I was more concerned about those names being incorrect,” said Cochran. “I thought, ‘Oh my God! We’re gonna be DQed for not turning in a relay card!’”
The final say in the matter belonged to Ira Dunsworth, a legendary Davenport Central coach who served as referee for the boys meet. Dunsworth told the Des Moines Register that Collins could have been DQed. “But,” he added, “the clerk said when the Valley kids lined up, the shorts were tucked up underneath, so that made it legal. The intent was for it not to be shown.”
The national ramifications of the performance shocked the Valley squad. “I can’t even describe how awesome fifth in the nation feels,” Sandvig told the Iowa Sports Connection. “There’s only four teams better in the country than us, and that’s a great feeling.”
Sandvig, who won the state 400m title one day earlier, got the baton from Collins with a 15-meter advantage. Sandvig produced a 47-second leg that put Valley in front by fifty meters. After that, the record book was the only competition left for Keairnes and McSkimming.
“Me and Zac hit 47 and everyone else did what they needed to do,” said McSkimming. “I didn’t know what I needed to run to beat it, but I wasn’t expecting a 47 out of it.”
Collins, Sandvig, Keairnes and McSkimming all played football for Valley, and Sandvig will go to Iowa State this fall on scholarship as a defensive back. “He’s our best kid,” said Cochran. “He’s a team leader, on and off the field.”
Collins, a junior, won the 100 and 200m titles at state. “He’s very, very fast and works hard,” said Cochran. “When the lights are on, he’s very good.”
Keairnes (pronounced ‘kurns’), the other senior on the team, is considering Iowa State and Nebraska. “He’s been a tremendously valuable person for our sprint relays the past two years,” said Cochran.
McSkimming, a junior who anchors the 4x400 and leads off Valley’s 4x100, placed third in both the 200 and 400 at the state meet. Cochran described him as “a consistent leader.”
After a meet-record 3:17.77 at this year’s Drake Relays, Valley was gunning for the record at state. Friday’s prelims seemed like the best bet. On Saturday, the day of the final, Collins was scheduled for four events on Saturday while Sandvig and McSkimming were down for three.
“These kids had been state champs a year before, and one of their goals this year was to break the state record,” said Cochran. “We thought Friday would be the day to do it since Collins, Sandvig and McSkimming only had to run two races [4x1, 4x4].”
In Saturday’s final, Valley won in 3:14.61. “Still a fabulous time,” said Cochran. “Collins had four races that day, although he ran a faster split [48.9 on Friday; 48.2 on Saturday]. Our two 47-second guys ran 48.”
At the Nike Outdoor Nationals, Cochran thinks the Valley quartet could run even faster. “They’ve run by themselves all year long,” he said. “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but that’s a fact. They pushed themselves to run these kinds of times without competition. Getting to the Nike meet, it’ll be interesting to see what’ll happen. I don’t think they’ll wilt.”
Cochran won’t be in Greensboro. “Brian Rhoads, who trained them, is going out there with them,” he said.
That weekend, Cochran and his wife will attend their son Jon’s graduation ceremony at Stanford University. Jon Cochran was starting offensive lineman for the Cardinal football squad.
The 53-year-old Cochran, a 31-year coaching veteran, said Valley’s 4x400 ranks second on his list of all-time thrills as a coach. “The first,” he said, “was when my son won the state title in the shot put in 2002. Nothing will top that.
“But that’s not fair to these kids. What they did is a big deal – a very exciting deal.”