Since 1974, high school track and field teams from around the state — and even the rest of the Southeast — have made the Carpet Capital a must-visit destination because of Dalton High School’s annual invitational.
Whether it was the fact that in the early years the meet was held on a track nicer than what many schools north of Atlanta and south of Chattanooga had or the hospitality provided to coaches, the meet has become a mainstay for the area’s spring sports schedule.
Known for many years as the Rotary Invitational, the meet will be in its second running as the Rotary Club of Dalton’s McClurg Invitational when it is held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Dalton High School. The meet was renamed last year in honor of Ronnie McClurg, the former longtime Catamounts track and field coach who also worked as football coach and athletic director at Dalton High School before retiring in 2010.
As always, the Rotary Club will have another chance to feature its “signature event.”
“That is actually the way we always refer to the Invitational,” said Brian Anderson, president of the Rotary Club of Dalton. “Each club is encouraged to have a signature community event by the national Rotarians to hold for your community and something that makes a connection. We do a lot of other things, but this is an all-hands-on-deck event ... Over the years, it has brought a great number of high-class athletes, and we are thankful to see that level of competition.”
One of the main draws for coaches is that the event is run completely by the Rotarians. At most meets, coaches from all teams in attendance must help run the event, whether it be keeping times on the track, measuring distances in the field or firing the starter’s pistol. At this invitational, coaches are allowed to be coaches and not scorekeepers.
“It is a great honor to take that burden off of the coaches and let them actually have a chance to coach their athletes in a meet setting rather than have them clocking times,” Anderson said. “That is one of the reasons the coaches like it so much, and we are just very proud of this event and all that it brings to the community.”
This year’s event could include as many as 18 schools, each with boys and girls teams in attendance. Dalton boys coach Scott Thompson said Gainesville may have to cancel because of budgetary cuts and concerns with transportation, but he said the Rotary Clubs from both communities are trying to come up with a solution.
In addition to the host Catamounts and Lady Cats, schools scheduled to compete are Murray County, North Murray, Northwest Whitfield, Southeast Whitfield, Cal-houn, Fannin County, Gilmer, Gordon Central, Gordon Lee, Grady, Heritage-Catoosa, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Pickens, Ringgold, Villa Rica and Woodland-Bartow.
Thompson said budget cuts and the growing number of modern tracks are some of the reasons the number of schools represented isn’t as large as the invitational had in some past years. Thompson said in his first year at Dalton 15 years ago, 35 schools competed in the event. Now with financial-related travel concerns and more meets competing for teams, it is difficult to get a large number.
“It is very hard. It used to be that with this track — from Atlanta up — there weren’t that many,” Thompson said. “Now, everyone is getting better tracks and they are closer, and it is really hard to draw. ... Next year we will have a state-of-the-art track, and if we can find the right date and get the word out, it will be filled. It is a quality meet and the coaches love it.”
The Dalton Board of Education recently approved budgetary items to replace the track at the school.
“This is going to be one of the best facilities in the state,” Thompson said. “It will be a higher grade than Jefferson (where the Georgia High School Association state track meet is held). The new track will be at a standard for national meets.”
This will be the first true test this season for both of Dalton’s squads. While the Cats and Lady Cats have competed in other events, neither team has been at full strength due to outside obligations and injury.
“We will find out early what we have against this field looking at some of the times the other coaches have sent in,” Thompson said. “This will be the first time we really get a look at the whole team. Kelvis Rhodes (last year’s Region 7-3A champion in the high jump) is already a lot higher than he was last year at this time. We feel strong in our other field events, and Ethan Fromm is strong in the 400 meters.”
While there may be strengths, there are also possible weaknesses.
“I don’t know about the sprinters yet,” Thompson said. “This is my first time in 15 years of coaching that I really don’t know what we have from our sprinters. I pretty much know what we have in distance and field, but in years past we have had some strong sprinters. We don’t have that standout name right now. Kelvis is our fastest, but until you see him in a meet like this, you don’t know what to expect.”
For the Lady Cats, the pool of competition at the event will be deep.
“I think the field is stronger than it has been in a while for the girls,” girls coach Pam Brackett said. “We don’t run against most of these teams, and it is always fun to go up against new competition. It is always fun and I really don’t know how we will fare. We will just have to wait and see.”
Brackett said 2012 Class 3A 300 hurdles champion Susan Meinders has a tweaked hip, but the rest of the team is in good physical shape. Despite the injury, Brackett expects Meinders to compete.
“We will be missing one or two people, but we should have a good showing,” Brackett said. (Meinders) is ready to go. She is always ready to go. We hope she will feel good, and she usually rises to the occasion.”