PUBLISHER’S COLUMN: THREE DAYS IN THE CITY
“I’m holding history.”
That was Oliver’s comment to me as he clutched his Canon R10 camera and we stepped foot onto the Howard Wood Field track complex in Sioux Falls Thursday morning for the first day of the 2023 SDHSAA State Track & Field Championships.
I took a second to let his words — “I’m holding history” — sink in before replying, “Yes you are, Ollie. Yes you are.”
And over the course of the next 22 hours, my soon-to-be 14-year-old son joined me in capturing the moments of the biggest sporting event high school sports here in South Dakota has to offer, and in doing so captured history one click at a time. It was an incredible three days on a number of levels.
As I’ve written before, the state track meet is how I got my start thanks to an invitation from my dad to join him in the Black Hills in May of 1990, when I, too, was soon-to-be 14 years old. The first sports image I ever made was of Freeman High School senior Dean Herrboldt getting set in the blocks to run the 100 at that track meet. I’ll never forget it.
Oliver has joined me before, but this year was his true inauguration. I needed him to help me cover our local athletes, and boy did he come through.
Last week’s state track meet, held May 25-27, was unforgettable on a number of other levels, too, as individuals and teams The Courier covers enjoyed a wide range of success. To be on the field watching, photographing and talking about these big-time moments was just fun. The sun was hot, the days grew long and by the end of each day Oliver and I were both shot, but that was all part of the experience.
I told Stacey when we got home on Saturday that, of all the state track meets I have covered since that first one more than 30 years ago, I don’t know if there was one that packed as much emotional punch as this one, and that’s saying something. I have covered two Class B state titles for the Freeman Public boys and multiple other runner-up finishes; the best showings for Freeman Academy track teams in a generation; phenomenal individual athletes doing extraordinary things; and also the deep disappointment of dropped batons, subpar clockings and massive letdowns.
But 2023 felt like an entirely new level both mentally and emotionally, and in talking with Stacey on Saturday, I was trying to figure out why. Well, she reminded me, I’m older than I used to be. Secondly, she said, it was three intense days shared with our son. And thirdly, she said — and I’ll never forget this: “You know these kids.”
My wife, of course, is right. The three days Oliver and I spent in Sioux Falls last week felt personal because these kids are special to me in a unique way. They are friends, schoolmates and acquaintances of my own children, growing up in the same world as they are, and they are as dear to me as family. And here they were, competing with the best track athletes in South Dakota and, in some cases, the country. And Oliver and I had a front-row seat. If that’s not special, then I don’t know what is.
Jeremy Waltner returned to work for the family newspaper in the spring of 1999 and has been a full-time community journalist since.