Remembering Mentor and Lake County’s Forgotten First State Track & Field Relay Champion

The line of success in a sport can sometimes begin in a person’s mind with the greatness of a certain athlete.

For Lake County high school athletics, one would easily assume that lineage begins with legendary sprinter Mentor Harley Howells and his exploits in the early 1930s.

Not so.

In 2017, it was fun to tell the story of Lake County’s first individual state champion, high jumper Harvey Wallace Persons, who in 1926 was Class B state champion…by a coin flip.

Harvey’s graduate Wallace Persons holds a unique place in the region’s athletic history

With the playoffs looming next week, it’s time to tell the story of our coverage area’s first heartland track and field relay state champion. This first happened when Howells was still in college.

In 1929, the Mentor Boys mile relay quartet of Alex Orvis, Leonard Booth, Dwight Boyer and Wendell Mellon won the Class B state championship.

What might be as fascinating as this victory is how little is known about it because there was so little fanfare at the time.

First, a reminder: Mentor was far from the Mentor we know today, with a commotion seemingly around every corner. It was a rural community, in that it was a comfortable Class B (small division) school.

Howells used to recount how he could leave his house and hunt rabbits in the snow in large fields, symbolizing in some way how rural Mentor was at the time.

The Painesville Telegraph highlighted the Cardinals’ duel with Harvey in its April 20, 1929 edition, as Mentor emerged with a 51-44 victory.

The double came down to the mile relay.

“The Mentor Boys relay team faced the problem of cutting the event or losing the competition,” the Telegraph wrote. “They won the race when Boyer, the Mentor leader, gave the West End school the lead and fellow team members Vellman, Van Horn and Mellon pulled past the Painesville runners.”

On April 29, it was announced that Mentor had sent out 15 invitations for his Mentor Relays. Only six were present that year, with the cardinals reigning again.

“Mentor High School senior relay teams showed off their heels to the top runners from the six schools taking part in the Mentor Relays on Wednesday afternoon at the Mentor Oval, the Telegraph reported.

“The first event on the schedule was the 880 yard relay, won by Mentor. … Mentor’s team, with Boyer, Van Horn, Mellon and Orvis carrying the relay, broke the tape in 1 minute, 39 4/ 5 seconds.”

Tape? Four fifths?

Yes, it’s definitely a different era.

“The third event saw the Painesville Harriers take the spotlight for a brief moment as they took a win in the mile relay. … Hackola, running a fine 440 for Fairport, gave the team the lead in the harbor town. But Hess of Painesville passed the lake harbor team on the second lap of the race and the Mentor rider sniffed out the Fairport speedster at the finish.”

The Cardinals also finished second in the mile relay at Lakewood Relays on May 11 before returning to Lakewood for the district and being a favorite to win the annual Lake County meet.

“Mentor includes some of the county’s fastest runners on its track team,” the Telegraph said. “For years this school has specialized in training runners of above-average ability, and its class in these events has been sufficient to bring Mentor’s colors to the fore in many track and field competitions.”

Apparently, however, the word didn’t travel very well.

In its May 20, 1929 edition, the Telegraph reported that Mentor was heading to the national track meet that weekend in one-mile and half-mile relays. The mile relay had placed third in the Lakewood District.

“Coach EC Tischendorf announced today that he will be taking a group of six boys to the Ohio School Meet in Columbus on Friday night,” they wrote. “The boys will compete in the Class B Schools final on Saturday.”

On May 25, the Telegraph praised the Cardinals claiming the Lake County meet at the fairgrounds, including what was believed to be a Class B state record in the half-mile relay (1:36.3) before heading to Columbus.

This is where it gets weird.

Mentor took the Class B mile relay crown this Saturday in Columbus with a time of 3:39.4, beating Rocky River, Dayton Oakwood, Port Clinton and Milan, according to OHSAA records. This we know for sure.

But there was not a word about it in the Telegraph in the days that followed. Imagine if this happened today and insert jokes here.

There it came and went, the first state championship track and field relay by a Lake County high school.

The 1929 edition of the “Scarlet and Grey” yearbook had been published long before the end of the athletics season. Thus, the directory generalized:

“The boys’ track, at press time, is not far along, but the outlook is for another brilliant season. In the last four years of county track competition, the Scarlet of Mentor have won three championships. Last year the boys had a good county record and pretty much the same team is back, with some valuable new members.”

Team members have been named, along with a dual schedule. That’s it.

There was a chance of fondly remembering the accomplishment in the 1930 yearbook. Not really, and not exactly.

On the boys’ track page, it reads: “Looking back on Mentor’s success last year in winning the 880-yard State Relay, we are confident our level will be matched this year.”

Only Mentor didn’t win the 880 relay — Rocky River did with a time of 1:37.2. The Cardinals won the mile relay.

Strange indeed.

But the staff of the yearbook have understood one aspect, foreshadowing the future in a certain way.

He was set to start with Howells and then climb higher in time, the Mentor boys with 44 top-four finishes since 1912 and 130 qualified in individual events and relays since 1945.

This trend started with a mile relay long forgotten by time – and apparently in their time – but remembered here and now.

“From the inception of Mentor High School, wrote the 1930 yearbook staff, “the athletic games and contests have been regarded as a most essential part of the school curriculum.

“The Mentor Board of Education did not confine or demarcate athletic pursuits in any way to impede their progress, which was surprisingly rapid. Available to every student is a campus unrivaled in the county. This campus has a football field, baseball field and track, which is why Mentor High School offers as many recognized sports teams as it does.”

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