Together, history is made: Blue Duke relays win twice at state
Unity blasts school records in 400 and 800 events
Whitefish Bay - James Stecker's whoop for joy at the end of the 400 relay.
Davontae Johnson's tears of joy as he gently cradled not one but two state gold medals.
Rashadeem Gray's revelation that he had been sick all week and had hardly been able to keep anything that he ate down.
And the normally effusive coach Joe Saggio's combination of both humility and pride.
These were the poignant, emotional moments as the Whitefish Bay sprint quartet of Stecker, Johnson, Brandon Threats and Gray put themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with Chet Wangerin, Steve Markson, Jim Bourne and the dozens and dozens of other Blue Dukes track greats when they won both the 400- and 800-meter relays at the WIAA state track meet Saturday in La Crosse.
Saggio had the perfect moment ready the moment he started talking Saturday.
"It was right after the 400 (the second relay title in an hour on Saturday)," he said. "They came from all four corners of the track and just ran to each other to celebrate. Ra-Ra (Gray) even did a back flip. It was so important that they shared it with each other."
The quartet destroyed school records in the process, as the 1:27.29 in the 800 tied with Milwaukee Vincent's 2008 then-state record clocking for third on the all-time Wisconsin list and the stunning 400 time of 41.93 is fifth all-time, just behind the legendary P.J. Tucker-anchored 41.84 of North Shore rival Nicolet.
"This is unbelievable," said Johnson, the only senior on the unit. "The greatest way to send off my career. We knew we had to make a mark for ourselves. I know we were aiming at the (800) record (Menomonee Falls' 1:27.03) but the gold is all that matters.
"It's all that matters."
The Blue Dukes had come in as one of the favorites in both races, especially the 800, as an intense field headed up by Bay, Sussex Hamilton, Sun Prairie, Wauwatosa West, Brookfield East and Kenosha Bradford prepared to do battle for relay gold.
Gray's illness forced some adjustments as Saggio switched things around to accommodate for the lack of stamina the sophomore was bound to have. Saggio was not worried about any changes to the lineup at this point.
"They've all been so used to each other that I didn't think it would be that big a deal," he said.
"We just had to stay humble and ready," Gray said.
The Blue Dukes were cautious out of the heats, qualifying fourth in the 800 and third in the 400 (Stecker was also sixth in the open 100), and took their time on a clear and windless Saturday morning, heading into La Crosse's Mitchell Hall and using the indoor 200-meter track to work on handoffs and starts.
"There was no messing around," said Saggio. "Just some last minute tweaks. Moving up in the acceleration zones, working on James' start."
It all worked. With top seed Hamilton handicapped by a leg injury to one of its top runners, the Blue Dukes fulfilled their destiny in the 800 as Threats brought home the stick 0.08 of a second ahead of Sun Prairie.
'We had to take it'
"Even though we'd been the top team (in the state) in this race almost all season, we knew it wouldn't be given to us," Threats said. "We knew we had to take it. Run our best race, get past all the little injuries and illnesses and just get it done.
"It means a lot."
"Look at the race, look at how good the handoffs were," Stecker said. "We were seeded third, we had to run the perfect race and we did."
Saggio was elated with that win, and would have been satisfied with almost anything the group would have given him an hour later in the 400 relay.
What he got surprised even himself.
"I thought for sure that they would have a letdown (with nine qualifiers under 43 seconds)," Saggio said.
But there wasn't, and Saggio pointed to the efforts of Johnson, who gave up the open 400, a race he had medaled at state in last year, to go for relay gold, as the primary reason.
"They've created a special bond," Saggio said. "We didn't want to take away his shot at individual glory (he had been slowed by injuries all spring), so it was important to show him how great it is to celebrate with teammates.
"And that was what clinched it. Did you see how he made up the staggers (in both his races)? I told him if he was in those races, that could definitely win some state titles. If he isn't, we don't stand a chance."
Johnson had put two-plus-two together awhile back.
"Look at the excitement, look at the fans (9,000-plus both days)," he said. "It's all worthwhile. We came out, took care of business and won a pair of state titles."
Steve Markson won the 800 crown and anchored the 3,200 relay to victory in 2006 for the Blue Dukes' last state titles.
Team finishes seventh
Bay scored 23 points at state, good for seventh as Brookfield East won with 57.
These current Blue Dukes have also caught the attention of one of those people who they have now moved in alongside with in the great history of Bay track. Sprinter Tom Ebert was part of the great Bay championship sprint relays of 1969 and 1970 before becoming a doctor, and he was absolutely thrilled at what happened.
"My thoughts were WOW," he wrote. "They were smokin' good in the 400 and 800. It (usually) means perfect hand-offs, perfect conditions and four really fast teammates. Wow!"
Saggio is pleased for that kind of response, for the respect the Blue Dukes are getting again and for what it all means to the kids individually.
"It was so special watch those tears of joy," he said "To see someone like Davontae with his teammates. That means the world to me.
"It made me just so proud to say I'm the coach of the Whitefish Bay track team."
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Sports Shorts: May 21
- Homestead has just enough depth to pull away for fifth North Shore tennis title
- Cooperation helped Whitefish Bay softball tourney work despite weather
- Veteran Shorewood netters claim Woodland dual meet crown
- Sports wraps: May 15
- Shorewood thinclads combine for eight firsts in Woodland Outdoor track
- NSC tennis race too close to call as tourney looms this weekend
- Fourth-ranked Bay kickers still looking for that perfect game
- Germantown softball team edges Bay, 1-0, to improve to 11-0 in NSC
- OUR TAKE