Saturday’s Springfield College Season Opener was as fruitful as ever; from individual victories to personal records, the men and women of Springfield College track and field program opened their 101st season in absolute style.
But the team celebrated more than just the individual performances. Saturday was the ceremonial “Passing of the Baton,” where the reigns to the team were passed on from former head coach Ken Klatka to a trio of new leaders – Angelo Posillico, Anna Steimen and Mike Miller.
Klatka devoted more than half his life to Springfield College track and field, spending 39 years at the helm of the program. He recorded a program-best 451 wins, and coached numerous All-Americans over the course of his tenure. Saturday was the first time someone other than him led the team in an indoor meet since 1977.
Following the completion of the events, the men and women’s team, a host of alumni, friends and family of Klatka huddled around the far end of the inside-track for the unveiling of a new digital scoreboard named in Klatka’s honor.
The field house is regarded as one of the best in the area, and the new scoreboard only adds to that.
“I believe the scoreboard elevates what was already a first-class facility,” Springfield director of athletics Craig Poisson said. “It’s what we strive to do. It’s what the coaches strive to do in their individual programs, and it’s what the college strives to do – get better every day.”
Poisson opened the ceremony by thanking the audience, and the donors and alumni who helped fund the state-of-the-art scoreboard. He then introduced Branwen Smith-King, a Springfield College alumna who once ran under Klatka – and the current assistant director of athletics at Tufts University.
Like anyone who’s been taught by or worked with Klatka in some capacity, she only had kind words to share on her former coach.
“Coach is the kindest and least egocentric coach I’ve ever known,” she said. “He never wanted the spotlight. It was always about his student athletes. I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving of this honor today.”
Following Smith-King’s remarks, Klatka himself made his way up to the podium. Standing in front of a host of his former athletes from across all generations, Klatka naturally deflected the attention from himself to others.
“I want to wish the new coaches the best of luck,” he said. “I know they’re going to do a great job, we have all the confidence in the world in them.”
Looking back on his four-plus decades at Springfield College as both an athlete and a coach, he cited the building of the field house as one of his prouder moments. He even poked fun at NEWMAC rival MIT, adding that Springfield’s institution is three-times as large as theirs.
“I remember my coach Verne ox talking about having an indoor facility some day. We kept waiting and waiting and waiting, and finally we got it.”
He was greeted by a standing ovation following his brief speech. Then came the ceremonious “Passing of the Baton.” Klatka and the three incoming coaches each stood 100 meters apart on the indoor track. As he got set to run the first leg, the master of ceremonies asked “coaches, are you ready?”
Klatka boomed back, “I was born ready for this.”
With that, he was off. He ran 100 meters before handing the baton off to Miller, who then passed it to Stiemen, who handed it off to Posillico to wrap up the ceremony. Following the run, Klatka was crowded by former student-athletes who yearned for just a few brief moments with their former coach.
Despite spending his Saturday on the campus he had spent more than half his life at, being back at the season opener was a weird feeling for him, and for one reason only: he wasn’t the one in charge.
“I’ve missed this place so much. But you know, it’s their program, I didn’t want to interfere in any way. But it’s nice to come, I felt so welcome by everybody. By the coaching staff, the former athletes…it was a fun day.”
Just one year ago, track and field alums gathered on campus for the 100th year anniversary of the program. Just one year later, they were back to honor their former coach.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Klatka said in regards to the outpouring of support. “It’s just absolutely wonderful to see people again, it’s just great.”
The men’s team was paced on Saturday by Alex Niemiec, who took first in the 60 meter dash (6.94 seconds) and the high jump (6 feet, 10.25 inches). In his first collegiate meet, freshman Tyler Hanson won the 200 meter dash in a time of 23.44 seconds.
Tim Harvey (triple jump), Brad Deckel (pole vault) both took first in their respective events as well.
On the women’s side, Courtney Luscier raced out to a first-place finish in the 60 meter dash at 7.93 seconds. She finished fourth in the 200 meter as well. Carly Markos placed first in the hammer throw with a toss of 52-feet, 4 inches.
Springfield will travel to Middlebury next on January 14.
Shawn can be reached on Twitter at @McFarland_Shawn