Tyler Sealock of Osseo won the boys 300-meter hurdles at the 2018 Hamline Elite Meet. Photo: Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune.
 
High school track and field’s midseason “all-star game,” the Hamline Elite Meet, stands as another casualty of COVID-19. The stadium lights will remain dark Friday night instead of illuminating the 15th gathering of our best runners, jumpers, vaulters and throwers.
 
“It is the most exciting, energized and fun meet we host all year,” Paul Schmaedeke, Hamline men’s track and field coach, wrote in an e-mail. “We miss doing it and the excitement it brings to campus.”
 
Back in 2015, Farmington senior Justin Hyytinen said, “Personally, I like it a little better than the state meet. The setup. The atmosphere. It’s a no-pressure situation where you can go out and give your all.”
 
Since first covering the meet in 2010, I’ve only heard one dissenting voice – the great Maria Hauger of Shakopee.
 
“I love running in the morning,” said Hauger in 2012, on her way to becoming the first girl to win four-consecutive Class 2A cross-country state titles. “I feel like I always do badly at the Hamline Elite Meet here because it's at night.”
 
But night is when the stars come out. The competition is strong; many of the competitors will return in June for the state meet. The meet pace is fast; all but two of the events are finals only. The result is a showcase pleasing to athletes and fans alike, even when the weather is less than elite.
 
Schmaedeke and Lynden Reder launched the unique meet in 2006. Top prep athletes, whether they represent Class 1A or 2A programs, compete head-to-head for individual glory.
 
In 2010, Bagley/Fosston’s Analisa Huschle won the 200-meter dash, long jump and triple jump against several Class 2A competitors and became the first Hamline Elite Meet athlete to win three individual events.
 
Held about six weeks before the state meet, the Elite Meet offers a high-profile checkpoint for top athletes. Unfortunately, sometimes the Elite Meet is the last place where those promising athletes shine.
 
Few sites have been more remarkable than watching Edina sprinter Devin Crawford-Tufts, already with the 100 and 200 crowns in hand, take the baton for the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay and just fly. He chased down three or four runners to win the race in 2011.
 
Crawford-Tufts later suffered a hamstring injury and missed the state meet.
 
Athletes also appreciate the Elite Meet star treatment. Winners do a live infield interview and receive a rolled-up T-shirt to throw into the appreciative crowd.
 
In 2014, Eagan’s Jacob Gourley won the 100 and 200 and anchored the Wildcats’ victorious 4x200 relay in a new meet record time. After winning the 100, his T-shirt throw sailed well off course, like a sad ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game.
 
Thirteen meet records were broken that year on a warm and sunny evening.
 
Then there was 2012, a chilly and windy night. Didn’t matter to Blaine freshman Taylor Morgan. She won the 100, a sign of big things to come for the future Gophers volleyball standout.
 
In 2018, a mid-April snowstorm left a few thigh-high piles on the Hamline infield’s eastern edge. Bits of rubber from the turf infield coated the piles, resembling marshmallows left too long over the firepit. Still Rosemount’s Jonathan Mann welcomed the outdoor competition, saying, “This feels like track now.”
 
This Friday night will feel empty by comparison. Here’s hoping we can make more “track after dark” memories next year.
 
“We are looking forward to the 2021 Elite Meet and playing track field again,” Schmaedeke wrote, the last part presumably in jest. “Missing a year will only make it better and more special. You learn you can't take anything for granted! We can hardly wait!”

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