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Track and field is one of the oldest sports at the University of Georgia, first competing intercollegiately in 1897, five years after the inaugural football unit began play and just one year after the first baseball team took to the diamond.
Interest in track and field at UGA began in the late 1800s with the annual intramural field days. At the request of Nash Broyles and Thomas Reed, the Athletic Association set up the first track and field contest in school history on May 28, 1887.
A subsequent field day was added a day later. Many of the events of that weekend would be foreign to a meet held today as wrestling matches, the baseball throw, tugs of war and the greased pig chase provided the entertainment in the 19th century.
After 10 years of field days, the University participated in its first intercollegiate track contest at the 1897 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association meet in Nashville, Tenn., where Georgia accumulated 13 points to secure a fourth-place finish out of 14 teams.
The school's first dual meet came a year later against Georgia Tech with UGA taking a 75-30 victory.
Regarded as track and field pioneers in the state of Georgia, The Atlanta Constitution noted in a May 26, 1894 article that "the University was much further along with their track program than any other state school."
Georgia head Wayne Norton became the 13th coach of the Georgia track program's long and storied history after taking over for coach John Mitchell after the 1999 season. Norton previously served nine years as an assistant coach in charge of jumps at the University of Georgia. Mitchell, an esteemed member of the track and field fraternity, built his reputation at the University of Alabama, where he won three SEC Coach-of-the-Year awards. Mitchell led the Georgia men's team to five top-10 finishes in the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Mitchell also helped elevate the UGA women's team to a new level of excellence by guiding them to third at the 1995 NCAA outdoor meet, second at the 1996 indoor event and fourth in the 1999 NCAA Outdoor Championships. The women earned their first SEC team title outdoors in 1995, and Mitchell was named the SEC's indoor and outdoor Coach-of-the-Year.
The first Georgia coach was John Mahan, a native of New York, who coached during the 1897 and 1898 seasons and ended his brief career with a perfect 1-0 dual-meet record. Following Mahan were Billy Reynolds, a Princeton graduate who also coached baseball, C.O. Heidler, an assistant basketball coach, and W.A. Cunningham, one of Georgia's football coaches.
With interest in track and field waning, the sport was revived by Herman J. Stegeman, a star at the University of Chicago who developed track and field into a popular sport at Georgia. Stege-man led UGA for 17 years and built one of the strongest teams in the South during his tenure. Along with assistant Weems Baskin, Stegeman guided Georgia to the 1937 Southeastern Conference championship, still the only men's SEC team title in the program's history. The star of the 1937 team was a youngster named Forrest Towns, whom everyone simply called "Spec". Towns captured his second national championship in the high hurdles that year.
Baskin coached one more season after Stegeman ascended to the Athletic Director's position, then turned the reigns over to another future Hall of Famer, Towns, who would enjoy the longest tenure of any coach at UGA. He coached for 34 seasons before retiring in the fall of 1975.
Taking over for Towns was his long-time assistant and fellow Georgia track and field great Lewis Gainey. Gainey directed the Bulldogs during one of their most successful periods in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
All-Americans such as Mel Lattany, Stanley Blalock, Dothel Edwards, Lester Benjamin and Herschel Walker were just a few of Gainey's prized pupils.
Gainey was assisted by Georgia's first three women's coaches, Bill Katz, Steve Sitler and Mike Sheeley, before taking over the female squad in 1988. The "Bulldog Babes", as they were known at first, immediately began producing All-Americans like Veronica Walker, Kathy Rankins, Linda Detlefsen and Gwen Torrence.