Why improbable? Because South Union did not have a track and all of their duel meets were away from home.
“We had the football field,” former Blue Devil standout Fran Novak explained. “We had no track and the football field wasn’t like one where you had a lot of space around the edges. We did the best we could by running on the football field in the grass and there were some cinders, but that was only for about 100 yards.
In the distances we were not quite sure, and we would pretty much run around the football field and even out through the surrounding neighborhood for longer distances. It was quite a handicap to train under those kind of conditions. We would run out through the neighborhood and try and dodge the cars.”
“We had difficulty training,” Harry Haught remembered. “When we had a dual meet it was always away, we never had a home meet.”
South Union had a very good dual meet season leading up to the sectional Class B qualifying event in Connellsville on May 10, 1961, at Connellsville. It was the first such event ever held for the area’s Class B schools.
The Devils made shambles of the- Sectional Class B qualifying event when they not only figuratively, but literally, ran away from the other six schools entered in the event. They compiled 66 points to win handily over Oakmont, Dunbar, Scottdale, Washington Township, East Huntingdon, and Ligonier in that order.
The Blue Devil speedsters took all eight running events, and just for good measure annexed the high jump and shot put in field competition, for 10 wins overall. They served notice they were a definite power to be contended with when the Class A and B WPIAL schools held annual track and field meet at Canonsburg Saturday, May 20, 1961.
“We really had a strong meet that day,” Novak recalled. “We not only won a lot of things, I think we set three new records. We performed tremendously and again it was not only because we won events, but we placed quite a few who scored that day.”
The only first places the Devils didn’t get were in the broad jump and the pole vault.
While rolling up their lopsided racing string the Devils cracked three existing WPIAL Class B records, and came within a tick of equaling two others. Donald Stone the only dual winner of the meet, ran a blistering 2:02 half-mile to surpass the mark of 2:04.1 set by Camp of Bridgeville back in 1942.
Stone came back to take the mile in another sparkling jaunt, winning in 4:47.4, although he was nowhere near the record at that time.
The Devil mile relay team, with Stone running third leg, behind Harry Haught and Mike Petrocky and ahead of Novak, steamed to a 3:33.7 win, chopping three seconds from the record at that time.
“Our mile relay team was undefeated my senior year,” Haught said. “Nobody in the county beat us.”
South Union’s half-mile relay team came within one-tenth of a second of breaking another record when they zipped the 880-yards in 1:35 flat, just over Bridgeville’s 1939 trip in 1:34.9.
Andy Marmol, Potrocky, Joe Veno and Haught combined to win by 40 yards over runners-up Dunbar and Scottdale in that order. Marmol later won the 220-yard dash in :22.7, one-tenth of a second off the record.
Novak also got into the record-breaking act, he led all the way to take the 440-yard dash in :52 7, or four-tenths second under the recognized standard at the time set in 1942 by Staple of Avalon. Haught won the 100 in :10.4, the meet record of :10.3 was set by Walt Roddy of Ligonier in the first elimination heat.
“What I was so proud of,” Novak stated, “we worked so hard as a team and as individuals sought to excel and we wanted to perform for Coach Ringy Stefancin, who was a good guy and encouraged us. I thought in some cases, I know in my own, I was able to beat some better athletes because I was training harder and probably more prepared for the races.”
“Coach Stefancin was a first class person,” Haught opined. “Coach Stefancin was a gentleman and a motivator and a really good person.”
South Union entered the WPIAL track finals as one of the favorites and didn’t disappoint at the meet held in Cannonsburg.
The Blue Devils tied Freedom for the WPIAL Class B track crown as both unseated defending champ Scottdale. The Devils collected three firsts, two seconds, two thirds and three fourths in the competition. In the Class B competition four new Class B marks were turned in with South Union collecting two.
Setting the marks for the Devils were Novak who ran a 52.5 440, bettering the old standard of 53, and Stone who covered the 880 in 2:03.7. The old halfmile time was 2:04.1.
Four of the Blue Devils joined Novak and Stone on relay teams and the two record setters competed in individual events.
In addition to Stone’s halfmile victory and second in the mile, and Novak’s 440-win the South Union mile relay team won a first and the half - mile relay team ran second.
Qualifying for the state meet were Stone and Novak in individual competition. The two South Union relay teams also qualified.
Seven South Union school records were set out of 14 track and field events in 1961.
“Coach Stefancin was a great guy,” Novak opined. “He was all about supporting his athletes and wanting the best from them and for them. He wanted us to do well athletically as well as in the classroom. He stressed both of those things and to try hard and do you your best. I think we made him proud.”
“This year’s squad (1961) in the words of Coach Stefancin was “the best group of young athletes I have ever coached.”