In my 33 years of covering high school sports in the St. Louis area, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing some great prep dynasties on the scene.
Perhaps the one that stands out more than all of the others was the Berkeley High Men’s and Women’s Track and Field program, which has been going strong since the 1970’s.
Under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Rod Staggs and a cast of talented coaches and great athletes, the Bulldogs’ track and field program has set a staggering standard of excellence that has spanned five decades. And by the way, the men’s and women’s label was not a misprint in the previous paragraph. Despite being a high school program, Coach Staggs made it a point to call his team the men’s and women’s program and not boys and girls.
That is how the program performed over the years and that is why the Berkeley High track programs will be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday, January 27 in Springfield. Staggs is now living in Wyoming and enjoying the great outdoors while also serving as a coach in the USA Track and Field program with some of the world’s top young athletes.
During his tenure in St. Louis, he built a track and field program that was the envy of all in the state of Missouri. First, there are the names of former Bulldog athletes that have been in the record books for years from Mike Rodgers, a two-time Olympian, Lavar Miller, an All-American combination jumper to Alishea Usery, a 16-time individual state champion. Those are just a few of the many athletes that made Berkeley (now McCluer South-Berkeley) a track and field dynasty.
The numbers that the Berkeley track program has put up over the decades are beyond belief. The Bulldogs men and women have won a total of 28 state championships, with the last one coming in 2017.
On the men’s side, the Bulldogs have won 16 state championships, which include 122 individual state champions and 106 relay state championships. The Bulldogs produced 27 All-Americans and sent countless athletes to the collegiate ranks.
As for the women of Berkeley, they have won a total of 12 state championships, including 94 individual state champions and 47 relay state titles, including the incredible 2007 4x400-meter relay team of Alishea Usery, Ashley Usery, Angel Williams and Kianna Ruff that set a state record with a time of 3 minutes 45.78 seconds. It was the best high school relay team that I have ever watched at the Missouri state meet. Kudos to current coach Keith Rhodes, who has been a great leader of the Bulldogs’ program in recent years.
Whenever I attended a state meet, I always expect a show from the Berkeley Bulldogs and I was never disappointed. In the first meet I covered, I recall an explosive anchor leg from star sprinter Rick Stovall to come from behind to win the 4x200 and a 24-foot long jump from Rashid Ward.
I remember those great races with Berkeley sprinters LaShundra Davis and Wendy Blocker going head-to-head with Kansas City Center star Phynice Kelly. There were those explosive leadoff legs from Michael Carrawell in the sprint relays to the dominance of Zandrea Wilson and recent state champions Raheema Westfall and Octavia Cato.
As the school McCluer South-Berkeley transitions into a new phase, it is great to see this great athletic program get this recognition that is well deserved. Congratulations to all of the great athletes and coaches that have made the Berkeley High School track and field program the best in the state of Missouri.