This past Saturday, East boys track coach Anthony Wilson come on the Stateline Sports Hour to talk about year three of the return of the East Relays, which takes place Saturday at Guilford High School.

The first edition of the East Relays started in 1943 and lasted until 2004. For several decades, it was the premier track event before the state meet. For most of those years, the main draw was East itself. It's hard to remember now, but East's boys track and field team used to be as dominant as Boylan's basketball teams and Guilford's golf, swimming and tennis teams.

track and field

From 1969 to 1990, East won 17 of the 21 conference state meets it competed in and finished in the top 10 at the state meet five times during that span. East track athletes still hold 10 of the 18 conference meet records.

But the East program, like most Rockford Public Schools programs suffered mightily after a federal desegregation lawsuit was filed in 1989, which caused a sea change in the demographics of the district. East's last track title was in 1990 and the only District 205 conference boys track title of any kind since that year was when Jefferson tied Hononegah for first in 2010.

Five years ago, the district hired Anthony Wilson to turn East's program around. Wilson was a part of the E-Rabs' glory days, graduating in 1986 when East won its ninth straight conference title. He said on the show one of his top priorities was to bring back the relays, which have a unique format where every event, even the field events are held in a relay type competition. It's impossible to draw a direct link, but the return of the relays in 2015 has coincided with a return to competitiveness.

The NIC-10 Sports History Book has posted all of the boys conference meet results since 2000. Here are the number of points East has scored in NIC-9/NIC-10 conference meets and where the team finished.

2000 - First place, Harlem, 120 points; 8th place, East, 34.
2001 - First place, Harlem, 132 points; 7th place, East, 24.
2002 - First place, Hononegah, 122 points; 8th place, East, 8.
2003 - First place, Hononegah, 168 points; 9th place, East, 10.
2004 - First place, Hononegah, 124 points; 9th place, East, 6.
2005 - First place, Freeport, 108; 9th place, East, 5.
2006 - First place, Harlem, 140; 9th place, East, 8.
2007 - First place, Hononegah, 115.5; 9th place, East, 33.
2008 - First place, Belvidere North, 105 points; 9th place, East, 28.
2009 - First place, Belvidere North, 129 points; East did not score at the conference meet.
2010 - First place, Hononegah/Jefferson, 130 points; 9th place, East, 11.
2011 - First place, Hononegah, 125 points; 10th place, East, 9.
2012 - First place, Belvidere North, 112; 9th place, East, 16.
2013 - First place, Belvidere North, 131.5; East did not score at the conference meet.
2014 - First place, Hononegah, 143; 6th place, East, 54.
2015 - First place, Hononegah, 133; 9th place, East, 14.
2016 - First place, Hononegah, 145; 5th place, East, 48.

As you can see, East scored its most points at the meet this century in 2014 and had its highest finish as a team in 2016.

Wilson said he has 55 athletes in track this year, which is crucial. The key to winning conference isn't so much winning the most events but being able to enter competitive athletes in every event.

Saturday's East Relays will have a formidable field, including Elgin Marian, East Chicago, longtime East Relays staple Beloit (Wis.) Memorial, Zion Benton and defending IHSA 3A state champion East St. Louis.

Wilson said beating East St. Louis is unrealistic, but finishing second would not be. That would be a big step forward for the once proud program.

The relays, which feature boys and girls, begins at 10 a.m.

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