Blast from past: Franklin County Fair Track Meets
Greenfield High School's Ricky Walters clears a hurdle during the 1965 Franklin County Fair track meet.
Greenfield High School runner Paul Schmidt finds himself slightly in front of two unidentified runners from Turners Falls High School during the Franklin County Fair track meet in the fall of 1964.
The Franklin County Fair kicks off this evening with a parade up Greenfield’s Main Street toward the Petty’s Plain fairgrounds.
Everyone has their favorite fair feature, whether it’s checking out the roundhouse or livestock, eating food, playing games or riding rides, or any of the other numerous activities in which a person can participate while attending the annual event. There are also activities that are now long gone and can only be reminisced, one of which is the old Franklin County Fair Track Meet, which last took place in 1966.
The track meet was a big day for fair goers. Local schools were given the day off for “Fair Day” so students could attend the popular county exposition and participate in cheerleading and band events and a track & field meet with most area schools represented. The meet, which began in 1917 and featured 10 area schools, changed over the years and eventually became a dual between Greenfield High School and Turners Falls High School before it finally ended in 1966. But during its hay day it was one of the fair’s premier events, not to mention a much-anticipated county sporting event.
The idea to hold a track meet began in the years just prior to 1917, when growing interest led to the creation of the meet in September of 1917. F.W. Burnham, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society presented the idea of a county high school track meet at the fair and principals John Jewett (Greenfield), Frank Boyden (Deerfield Academy), L.B. Phelps (Powers Institute), S.W. Cummings (Arms Academy), A.L. Dexter (Orange High) and C.R. Baille (Northfield High) all met at the Mansion House on Main Street in Greenfield to plan the event.
A total of 10 schools were invited to that first 1917 meet, and it’s tough to determine if every school sent students, but all those that did attend met at the Greenfield railroad station and were escorted by the Greenfield band on a festive march to the fairgrounds. Each school had a designated section in the grandstands, where their student body was able to “root, root, root for its home team.”
As it stood, athletes from the smaller schools (Bernardston, Conway, Ashfield and Charlemont) were allowed to compete in five events, while students from the larger schools (Greenfield, Turners Falls, Deerfield, Shelburne, Orange and Athol) had a four-event limit. Greenfield won the inaugural event with 40 points. Athol came in second with 34 points, Deerfield took third with 12 points and Shelburne came in fourth with 4. The event continued that way for four years until in 1921, when a Senior and Junior divisions were formed to separate the small and large schools. In 1943, only Greenfield and Turners Falls competed, then Arms Academy came on for a three-year period between 1944-46. From 1947-1950 it reverted back to Greenfield and Turners Falls.
There were also two years when the meet was not held in that time frame. In 1918 no records of the meet were found, possibly due to a flu epidemic, and in 1931 the meet was canceled, this time due to the polio outbreak.
In 1951, the meet was officially ended for what appears to be a number of reasons. One was that Turners Falls dominated the meet from 1938-1950, winning every year in that frame. The other reasons were due to the fact that the meet took place “out of season,” because track was and still is a spring sport. Many of the athletes on the track team also played football, and these athletes did compete at the fair. The Massachusetts Headmasters, which was the governing body for high school athletics prior to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), did not like the idea of athletes competing out of season. There was also the argument that athletes were not in “game-shape” due to the offseason competition.
So from 1951-53 an “open track meet” was held for any students but no team scores were kept. Then, from 1954-61 there was no track meet held at the fair, although the school bands, twirling teams and cheerleading contests continued strut their stuff. Also, from 1960-61, a Spring Fest was held at the fairgrounds in May after Richard Campbell, president of the Agricultural Society, and chairman Alvin Oickle put together a short-lived. event
In 1962 the track meet returned to the fair and featured Greenfield, Turners Falls, Frontier, Arms, Pioneer and Mahar. The final meet was held in the fall of 1966 when Turners Falls won. The Massachusetts Headmasters would no longer sanction the competition and that, along with a scheduling clash with football, is believed to have been the deal-breaker.
Turners Falls wound up winning the Class A meet 23 times, while Greenfield picked up 14 wins, and Arms Academy earned four. Arms also competed in the Class B event during the 20 years that a second class was held and won that class seven times. Sanderson Academy won five times, Charlemont won four times, and South Deerfield and Orange each won twice.
Times have changed and with that, the idea for a fair track meet will likely never again be broached. But it was once a major part of the Franklin County Fair and will be forever etched in the minds of those that participated and watched. And anyone wishing to check out more history on the Franklin County Fair should visit the Mary Benedetti Fair Museum, located in the rear of the fairground’s main office.
The fair events that took place varied through the years but eventually 14 standard events were held. Here is a list of all the events and the record-holders, according to extensive research conducted by Michael Cadran, a Greenfield resident and Turners Falls graduate:
• 100 yard dash — Walt Harris, Greenfield, 10.00 seconds, 1933.
• 220 yard dash — Paul Boudreau, Turners Falls, 22.40, 1947.
• 440 yard dash — Dick Phillips, Greenfield, 52.30, 1962.
• 880 yard dash — Jim LoPresti, Charlemont, 1:50.20, 1934.
• Mile — Dave Ciszewski, Greenfield, 4:34.8, 1964.
• 2-Mile — Charleton Baldwin, Pioneer, 9:51.00, 1966.
• 120 yard low hurdles — Joe Charron, Greenfield, 14.30, 1960.
• 880 yard relay — Greenfield, 1:37, 1933.
• Javelin — Brian Bulman, Greenfield, 162-8, 1964.
• Shot put — Myron Rokoszak, Frontier, 50-8, 1961.
• Discus — Ed Crafts, Greenfield, 128-83/ 4, 1939.
• Broad jump — Walt Kostanski, Turners Falls, 20-71/ 2, 1942.
• High jump — Jim Ludwiczak, Frontier, 6-3/ 4, 1963.
• Pole vault — Dave Sadowski, Frontier, 11-3, 1960.
There were also “Odd” track and field events that took place over the years including a bicycle race, tug-of-war, baseball throw, football punt, 50-yard dash, 3-legged race, potato race, football toss, hop-skip-jump, and other sprint races.
Mike Cadran, local sports historian and co-host of GCTV’s “Dukes of Sports,” did extensive research for this article.