Coach Dennis McDonald at the old North Thurston High School track sometime around 1974
I don’t think many people know that former North Thurston High School Track Coach Dennis McDonald of Lacey, Washington created a first in track and field in the United States.
Dennis McDonald along with Ray Colombo started the first ever high school decathlon and pentathlon (later changed to the heptathlon) state championships in the United States in the late spring of 1972.
The Washington State groundbreaking decathlon and pentathlon championships inspired other states to hold state championships in these events as well. Arizona, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania were the next states to follow McDonalds lead.
The state decathlon and pentathlon championships were held in Lacey, Washington at North Thurston High School for many years.
Partially due to McDonald’s efforts, the first four national high school decathlon champions hailed from Washington State.
National collegiate Heptathlon champion, Olympic alternate, and world championship participant Patsy Walker from Yelm High School got her start in the state pentathlon championships in Lacey.
Patsy went on to win the state track and field championships all by herself. She won four individual events at the state meet and is one of the few people in U.S. history to win a state team Track and Field championship solo.
The early state decathlon record holders by class were Mike Radford (Senior) of Seattle, Dennis Dudley (Junior) of Richland, and Larry Weber (sophomore) of Lacey.
On the girl’s side, Jeanine Shepard of Mercer Island held the state record for juniors and seniors in the pentathlon. Patsy Walker held the state records for freshman and sophomores. Several national bests were recorded over the years at the Washington State Championships as well.
Dennis McDonald was a pioneer and ahead of his time. Like most pioneers, he never really got the credit he deserved for his ground-breaking events. Coach McDonald also founded the Lacey Parks and Recreation Department. His summer track and field team was the first ever organized activity of the new Parks Department.
I will have more to say about coach McDonald later. He was one of the most influential people in my life during my junior high and high school years. Coach McDonald impacted the lives of hundreds of student-athletes in the greater Thurston County area for the better during his lifetime, including mine.