• Penny Weichel

Rocky Grove had two state track champs

Updated: May 21, 2020

This column originally appeared in the May 20, 2020 edition of The Derrick/The News-Herald.

Pictured: Chris Conway

If you didn’t know Franklin’s Jack Fultz won the Boston Marathon in 1976, then you also might not know that Rocky Grove had two PIAA state champions – in track. Especially since the Orioles no longer field a track team.

But in 1959, coach Vince Curran’s Grove squad produced not one, but two state champs in junior Bob Flickner, who clocked 10.4 to claim the Class B (now AA) 100-yard dash, and sophomore DeWitt Green, who cleared 11-43/4 to win the pole vault.

Neither, however, would repeat.

Flickner, a former Oil City Little/Pony League baseball star in his younger days, would settle for third place as a senior. And Green, who pole vaulted in his bare feet, went 11-0 at states before dropping out and failed to place in 1960. Then his family moved to Texas the fall of his senior year, and Green took his school record 12-2 with him.

Flickner, who by this time was starring in the Oil City Softball League, moved to Warren around 1973. His son, Jeff, would become a star tailback for coach Toby Shea’s football Dragons. Jeff Flickner also was once Warren’s football coach and now serves as high school principal.

Meanwhile, even though the Grove has since dropped track, it does have baseball – and a state championship on the diamond in 2018.

Oilers dominate in ‘80s

Venango County has had 14 state champions in track, the first being Oil City’s Charlie Winger who captured three titles in 1954 and 1955. Winger, who died May 16, won the Class A (now AAA) mile (4:32.2) as a junior in 1954 and repeated as a senior with a state record 4:25. An hour and a half later he won the 880 in 1:58.1.

His heroics began a string on 10 individual state champions for Oil City track and field, half of them coming during the team’s Golden Era in the 1980s.

Rick Weaver won the 880 in 1969 before Scott Moon claimed back-to-back javelin crowns in 1980-81, Mike Renninger (1600 meters aka mile) and Ed Munoz (800), tutored by Winger, gave Oil City two state champs in 1985. Chris Conway won the long jump in 1986; the speedster also sported six D-10 titles in his career. And, finally, current NFL tight end Ben Koyack garnered another state javelin honor for the Oilers in 2010.

Beginning in 1978, the boys of Bob Craig dominated local track with all of the league (Section 2 or TCAC ) crowns through 1986. The reign included back-to-back District 10 titles in 1981-82; the girls won three straight D-10 championships in the early 1980s, too, and freshman Marty Marczak’s runnerup finish in the half-mile made it a glorious day for Oil City track in the 1985 state meet.

Only Titusville interrupted that run with a S-2 championship in 1979, a sort of “last hurrah” for the Rockets, who ruled through most of the 1970s under OCHS grad Larry Kirkwood. His teams won four S-2 and five D-10 crowns earlier in the decade, and -- my fave -- boasted two two-mile relays that ran under eight minutes, one in real yards and the other converted from meters. (Yes, Virginia, there is a conversion chart.) Terrific for a school Titusville’s size.

Franklin and Cranberry have also had their moments on the oval. The Knights won the District 10 title in 1960, ending a five-year reign by Erie Academy, and for the girls, Franklin’s Liz Bodnar (1995 AAA high jump) and Kacey Neely (1997 AA 300 hurdles) garnered state crowns.

Venango County’s first state champ…

Even though the Franklin boys have never had a state champ in track, they do have a spring sports state titlist in Barrett Melvin, who also happens to be Venango County’s first PIAA champion – and a repeat winner at that.

Melvin won back-to-back PIAA golf titles in 1935 and 1936 – a feat that wouldn’t be accomplished again until Latrobe’s Arnold Palmer made it two-in-a-row in 1946-47.

According, in part, to research done by FHS Hall of Fame nominees Dave Smith, Eric Smith and Tom Mays:

Melvin moved to Franklin from DuBois in the late 1920s when his dad Eddie became golf pro at Wanango. A Western Pa. junior champ, Barrett enrolled at Pitt after high school and was assistant pro at Oakmont to Emil Loeffler in 1939, but enlisted in the Army in 1942. And Hawaii is where he and his family would make their home after World War II. (Long-time pro John Loeffler would eventually succeed Eddie Melvin at Wanango.)

The lanky Barrett Melvin was an 11-time U.S. Open qualifier and played in three PGA championships. He was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. He died in 2004.

Getting It Right

Franklin’s Phil Emerson has five individual gold medals in the state swimming meet, instead of the three I said he had in the Charlie Winger article. Emerson won three 100 free titles from 2012-14 and two in the 50 in 2013-14. He also had a gold in the 200 free relay in 2013. So I stand corrected.

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