Community Sports

Saturday, Apr 05 2014 10:11 PM

Kansas: It runs in the family

BY TONY LACAVA Californian staff writer tlacava@bakersfield.com

T hree years before Dorie was born in 1996, her parents, Greg and Mary, were celebrating their recent wedding with family and friends in Bakersfield.

Greg's father, Art, a one-time University of Kansas track champion and longtime high school coach and part-time wisecracker, stood up in his southwest Bakersfield home and toasted the newlyweds with this punch line, and probably a wink:

"I can't wait to see where she ends up running."

Greg and his bride, Mary, knew that not only was that Art's way of calling for a grandchild but also a prediction of a baby girl, who would grow up to be a college-caliber track athlete and -- here's where the wink comes in -- would undoubtedly follow her grandfather's, and her father's path ... and end up running for Kansas.

Problem was, there was no grandchild yet. Not even on the radar.

"The ink was hardly dry on our wedding license," Greg said.

And yet Art's toast, 21 years ago, turned out to be profoundly prophetic.

Exactly two months ago at the Skyline High School gym in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, 17-year-old Dorie Alexandra Dalzell signed a national letter of intent to run track for the University of Kansas.

Her signature connected the dots on three generations of Dalzell "Jayhawk" runners, the elder two with deep ties to Bakersfield.

Grandpa Art, a coach for the powerhouse Bakersfield High track program for a quarter century before getting into the prophecy business, was a tremendous middle distance runner for Kansas in the 1950s.

And Greg, after an outstanding track career at BHS under his dad's guidance, ran for Kansas from 1982-86. To this day, Art and Greg are the only father and son to have served as track and field captains in the 114-year history of the Jayhawks program.

Now, Dorie will extend the Dalzell tradition, a decision she made on her own, and one that would have given her granddad a smile that could have lit up the track at Griffith Field.

"He had no way of knowing if I'd be a boy or a girl, so that was very special," she said of that toast by Art, who died in 1995 of a stroke at age 63, a year before Dorie was born.

Three Dalzells. Three generations. Three runners. Three Jayhawks. One dandy prophecy.

The grand daddy

Arthur Howe Dalzell, a Spring Hill, Kansas native, came to Bakersfield in the late 1950s and coached cross country at Bakersfield College before becoming an assistant to track coach Glenn Beerline at Bakersfield High. Dalzell became the Drillers' head track coach by 1968, and he guided the powerhouse program for 25 years.

His teams were nearly impossible to beat, amassing a 119-6 record in South Yosemite League dual meets, nine Central Section championships and 15 South Yosemite League titles in his tenure.

He retired in 1993, a year after being named The Californian's All-Area Boys Track Coach of the year for the second time, and died three years later, Kern County losing one of its longer-tenured and most colorful and successful coaches. He was inducted posthumously into the Bob Elias-Kern County Hall of Fame in 2004.

"Dad was funny, self-deprecating and had a great sense of humor," Greg said. "Coaching, at practice, he was pretty laid-back, but at track meets he was a different person: a fierce, fierce competitor. He hated to lose. When he lost, he'd be pretty bummed out for a couple days."

Jim Cowles, who coached alongside Art throughout Art's head coaching career, said Dalzell would bolster his Driller rosters by canvassing the sprawling BHS campus for potential athletes, enabling the program to dominate opponents with numbers as well as talent.

"Any kid who had any kid of spring in his step at all, Art was after him immediately," Cowles said.

Dalzell, who also guided four Driller cross country teams to league titles, collected a State Coach of the Year honor in 1982, plus was a three-time Central Section Coach of the Year.

"He was a fantastic coach," Cowles said. "He had a paternalistic attitude toward the kids, and they respected him."

Much of what Art taught was what he'd absorbed at Kansas, where track and field tradition runs as rich and deep as any college in the country.

Dalzell was a racehorse for the Jayhawks, winning the Big 7 Conference title in the 880-yard dash in 1952, and being a big part of six indoor and outdoor Big 7 title teams in track and field and three more in cross country. He was a 1956 Olympic Trials finalist in the 1,500 meters (3:49.7) and is a member of Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame.

Son rises

Greg, now 51 and working as a senior vice president with Wells Fargo in Seattle, made an impact as a Driller sophomore in 1979 as part of an electrifying 1,600 relay squad with Kenny Cooper, Mike Haynes and Robert Earl Johnson.

That quartet hooked up with fiery Fresno-Edison in a Central Section championship race for the ages at Lemoore High, with Edison edging the Drillers 3:13.45 to 3:13.58. Those two marks have stood the test of time as the two best in the roughly 100-year section history.

That Drillers relay made the finals at the State Championships in Sacramento but did not place.

After sitting out his junior season because of hip surgery, Greg regained his form as a senior in 1981, winning the SYL and South Area titles and posting his high school personal-best of 1:53.57 in the 880-yard dash.

Top-flight college track and field programs came calling, and Greg narrowed his final choices to UCLA and Kansas.

Art did lay down one edict, Greg recalled: "He said, 'You can go wherever you want, but if you go out of state, you've got to go to Kansas.'"

Upon graduation from BHS, Greg took an official visit to his father's beloved alma mater in Lawrence, Kan., whose Hall of Fame includes the legendary Jim Ryun, the first athlete to run a sub-4-minute mile in high school (and still the only one to do it as a junior), storied Native American Olympic 10,000 meters champion Billy Mills, four-time Olympic discus gold medalist Al Oerter, even a tall, lanky high jumper named Wilt Chamberlain.

Young Greg signed to accept a scholarship on the spot.

"I chose Kansas because I knew it would make (Dad) happy," Greg said. "It was a huge family kinda thing when I went back there. My dad's coach, Bill Easton, and the current coach, Bob Timmons, went to breakfast with me, and that's the first time those two coaches ever sat down together. I'm this 18-year-old kid, and I've got these two legendary coaches, who coached NCAA champions and Olympians, sitting next to me. That was pretty cool.

"All these guys my dad ran with, they'd always get together. I wasn't just going away to a university, I was part of a family with all these (former) athletes that knew my dad, and it was great to be part of that. I wouldn't have gotten that with some other university."

Greg was a member of three Big 8 Conference championship teams and took over as captain of the Jayhawks in 1986.

The Washington Whiz

Dorie, who placed fourth in Washington state in the 400 last season and was on the state's third-place 4x400 relay, has some unfinished business this spring for Skyline, whose middle-distance runners are coached by her father.

Already Skyline's 400-meter record-holder (56.77), Dorie's new goals, she said, are school records in the 100 and 200, a state record in the 1,600 relay and state title in the 400. She can focus on those now that her daunting college decision process is behind her.

And oh, what a process it was.

While a scholarship offer from Kansas would seem to be a no-brainer for a child whose father and grandfather were both team captains there, that was not her case.

She was nothing short of frazzled in the final months of 2013 as she narrowed her choice to Kansas and Columbia.

Continue the family tradition? Or follow the lure of an Ivy League education and potential career in New York City?

"I was so stressed about not knowing where I was supposed to go and, (possibly) making the wrong choice," Dorie said. "I kept going back and forth because they're such different schools, and I wasn't sure what I wanted. Kansas was the last school I visited. And after I visited, I still went back and forth."

Greg said he just tried to remain neutral.

"Dad never said anything," Dorie said. "I knew (Kansas) would be cool because of the third-generation thing, but the only time we talked about Kansas was during basketball, because that was a big time I'd root for them."

A key Jayhawk seed was planted a couple years ago, Dorie said, when she first saw the sensational Diamond Dixon, Kansas' 2012 women's indoor NCAA 400 champion who also won an Olympic gold medal in London as part of the U.S. 400 relay team.

More points for Kansas were scored a year ago, when the Dalzells traveled south to Oregon to watch the NCAA Track and Field Championships, and the Jayhawks earned the women's team title.

"It was crazy to see them win," Dorie said. "My dad said that was like a recruiting tool. So now I'm really paying attention, because they are the best. So if they wanna pay attention to me, that makes me feel great!"

Her solo recruiting trip to Kansas, she said, was comforting in that several of the coaches had ties back to the program her dad competed for in the 1980s, and "they all knew me," Dorie said.

On Dec. 30, Dorie gave a verbal commitment to Kansas, shedding a "huge" weight off her shoulders. Two months later, she faxed that national letter of intent to Kansas and participated in a Skyline's signing ceremony, a proud mom and dad, and 14 other college-bound classmates among the several dozen in attendance.

"I think it is just fantastic their daughter is going to Kansas; such a heritage," said Cowles, Dalzell's former "sidekick" at BHS. "(Art) was Kansas all the way. Thats a really special thing for (Dorie) to go there."

Dorie's mom, Mary, spoke for all when she said: "It broke my heart that Art couldn't be here."

One of the toughest things about her Kansas decision, Dorie said, was that it was like a big, sweeping U-turn.

"My whole life, I didn't want to go there, because dad and grandpa went there," she said. "I always thought it was weird to go exactly where your parents went. But funny enough, it ended up being the right school for me."

Her father shared her comfort zone.

"Once she had made that decision, it just felt right to me," Greg said. "I knew the experience she was going to have and I know how they run their program. I knew what she was getting into. All the sudden, all the questions we had about other schools just fell by the wayside."

And, he admits, "I think there was a real sense of, obviously, pride that she had made this choice to follow the tradition."

After pausing for a moment, he added: "Overwhelming pride."

It's the same pride, no doubt, that Art had when he toasted his son and daughter-in-law 21 years earlier, not only correctly predicting a girl, but a future, fleet-footed Jayhawk.

"He said it with this look on his face," Greg recalled of Art's 1995 toast in Bakersfield, "with this look that there was no doubt in his mind where she was going to run."

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