Tonight, the 87th boys Easterns and 41st girls Easterns will be held at the 168th Street Armory. This is the oldest high school-only track meet in the country and has a remarkable history.
Back in 1934 that the Amateur Athletic Union first held an interscholastic meet at the old Madison Square Garden on 50th Street and 8th Avenue. There had been a so-called national championship held earlier at the Newark Armory under the auspices of St. Benedict’s Prep, but it’s from the Garden meet that the current Easterns Invitational draws its lineage.
The meet remained at the Garden until 1965, when the AAU decided to take its championships on the road.
There was team scoring back in the early days of the Easterns, and the 1934 meet was won by Jimmy Curran’s team at Mercersburg Academy, located outside of Harrisburg. It was under Curran’s tutelage that several world-class athletes developed at Mercersburg, including 880-yard world record holder Ted Meredith.
In 1935, the meet split into two divisions – high school and prep school. The two divisions united again in 1955 with post-graduates banned. In 1966, the meet first moved to the 168th Street Armory in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and remained there until 1972 under the auspices first of the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association, then of the Staten Island Coaches Association.
For 44 years – from 1934 through 1977 – Easterns had team scoring, with schools from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia taking turns winning.
In 1973, a conflict of dates caused the meet to be cancelled. It was then that the New Jersey Catholic Track Conference stepped in and took over, moving the meet to Princeton University‘s Jadwin Gym. The Easterns, as the meet was now known, soon became the most competitive indoor high school track meet in the nation in those days before the national championships.
In 1980, the girls Easterns debuted in Boston and continued there until 1996, when it merged with the boys meet and, under the jurisdiction of the Bergen County Track Coaches Association, was held for one year at Princeton before moving back into 168th Street Armory, now newly refurbished and boasting one of the world’s fastest banked 200-meter tracks.
Here are just a few of the Olympians who’ve competed over the years at Easterns:
♦ 1978 and 1979 long jump winner Carl Lewis of Willingboro, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist;
♦ 1991 300-yard dash winner Lamont Smith of Willingboro, who ran on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic 1,600-meter relay team in 1996
♦ Eastern’s English Gardner, who won the 55 in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and ran on the gold medal-winning U.S. 4-by-100 relay team at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
♦ 1979 Easterns high jump champ Milton Goode of Monmouth Regional competed in the high jump at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles
♦ 1982 high hurdles winner Luis Morales of Oxon Hill., Md., competed in the 100 and 200 for Puerto Rico at the 1984 Games.
♦ John Tuttle of Alfred-Almond, N.Y., won the mile at the 1977 Easterns and ran in the U.S. Olympic marathon in 1984.
♦ 1980 and 1981 1,000-yard run winner John Marshall of Plainfield raced in the 400 at the 1984 Olympics.
♦ Willingboro‘s Carol Lewis, who won the long jump in 1980, was a two-time Olympic long jumper.
♦ Hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah of Scotch Plains won the hurdles at the 1977 meet. He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team but didn’t get a chance to compete because of the boycott. He broke the world record the next year.
♦ Hazel Clark of Columbia won the 1,000 in 1994 and the 600 in 1995 – the last year it was held. She raced in the 800 at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.
♦ Pleasantville’s Nia Ali, who won the hurdles in 2006, won the silver medal in the high hurdles in 2016.
♦ Robby Andrews of Manalapan won the mile at 2009 Easterns and raced in the 800 at the 2016 Olympics.
♦ Mount Olive’s Keturah Orji won the long jump in 2012 and 2014 and the triple jump in 2013 and 2014, setting meet records in both. She set the American triple jumper at the 2016 Games.
♦ Sydney McLaughlin a native of Dunellen and a graduate of Union Catholic set a meet record of 7.66 in the hurdles in 2015, long jumped 20-7 3/4 in 2017- a quarter inch shy of Orji’s meet record – and ran the second-fastest 200 in meet history in 2016 with a 24.00 before skipping the final. She was 16 when she competed in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2016 Games.