Photos by Robert Campbell
The 43rd Trophy Invitational track meet, a Laguna Beach High School tradition in the re-making, got underway on the last day of winter at 8:41 a.m. as ominous clouds gave way to sunny skies. The unusual starting time last Saturday was in recognition of Eric Hulst’s 3200-meter state record of eight minutes, 41 seconds, a mark that stood for more than 30 years.
Hulst put Laguna Beach on the map in the mid-70s when he set numerous county, state, national and international distance records. His mother, Sharon Sandin, former coaches, teammates and competitors were on hand to honor the tennis player turned track star at a ceremony dedicating the school’s track in his honor last year.
Established in 1937 by Red Guyer, Laguna’s first track coach, the Trophy Invite was designed to give small Orange County schools a chance to compete on a level playing field. It was revived last season after a 27-year absence by the school’s current boys and girls coaches Scott Wittkop and Steve Lalim. “It really means a lot to me to have revived the Trophy Invite,” said Lalim. “But more than that, the dedication of the Eric Hulst track was a day I will always remember.”
Backed by a small army of boosters, parents and students, Lalim and Wittkop leveraged the lessons they learned a year ago to pull off an even more successful event that featured more than a 1,000 athletes from 20 Orange and Riverside county schools large and small. “It gives us a chance to showcase our athletes, school and community,” said Wittkop as he recuperated from organizing the marathon event.
From the press box high above Guyer Field, former LBHS runner and coach Dave Brobeck enthusiastically called the action for what, until last year, was such a big part of his life. “It’s my way of staying close to the sport,” he said.
On the track, sporting a tomato-red blazer and matching straw hat, Stan Clark reloaded the well-worn starter’s pistol he would use to launch hundreds of runners around Hulst Track. A 25-year veteran official and former coach at Fountain Valley High School, Clark witnessed Hulst’s legendary exploits at similar invitationals nearly 40 years ago, “He was an exceptional athlete,” Clark recalled.
A crowd that continued to swell throughout the day feasted on everything from tacos to funnel cake as they watched the various events unfold. Laguna senior Christianne Kinder turned in the best Breaker performance, clearing 5.0’ in the high jump to take first place.
Lalim sees invitationals as an opportunity for his athletes to set personal records. “If they win, it’s a nice bonus,” he said.
Other notable performances were turned in by senior Christa French, who took second in the 300-meter hurdles, and junior Natasha Strickland, who finished third in the 1600 meters and fourth in the Eric Hulst Memorial 3200 meter race.
Sophomore Kevin Tovar took third in the frosh/soph 800-meter race, while freshman Kailar Pike tied for third in the frosh/soph high jump.
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