A special honor

To be successful, an athletic program needs some good athletes, a good head coach and some good assistant coaches.

When you get all three, you have the perfect storm --- and a program can then become great.

Even special.

"I would agree with that," said former Jefferson City High School track and field head coach Dennis Licklider. "The key is having the athletes, more than anything else. But we had great assistant coaches over the years. In track, those coaches have more personal ownership with the kids than in any other sport."

But there was one final piece to this puzzle --- a trip back to school. That helped elevate the Jefferson City program from good, to great, to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2013. The program was honored during Sunday's induction ceremony in Springfield.

"We went to a USA Track and Field Level II school in the Summer of 1996," Licklider said. "We learned some things about training and we sat down and revamped our entire program, from top to bottom. We were good at the time, but we knew we could be better."

The school lasted eight days, 14 hours a day, except for the Fourth of July, of course --- that was only an eight-hour session.

"The kids could see how much it was helping them, and they could see the difference it made from the first day of practice to the state meet," Licklider said. "We were able to get the best performances out of our kids when we needed it, that's what it's all about.

"We put things together in a way we'd never done it before and, well, we had a pretty good string of titles after that."

And it's landed the program in the rarefied air of the Hall of Fame.

"I really believe that," said Licklider, head coach of the Jays and Lady Jays from 1986-2009.

Here are some numbers that are hard to believe. Under Licklider and his wife, Roberta, who oversaw the girls team, the Jefferson City program:

* went 237-5 in dual meets;

* won 40 district championships;

* had 712 state qualifiers;

* won nine state championships;

* and secured 27 state trophies for a top-four finish.

Believe it or not.

"It's such a great recognition for all the kids who have run track for Jefferson City, and represented the school and the town over the years," Licklider said. "For them to be in the Hall of Fame, it's super."

The program started in 1940 after the school's then-new stadium, track and lockerroom were built. Early head coaches included:

* John Griffith (1950-58);

* Pete Adkins (1959-75);

Adkins, of course, is in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for his exploits in high school football. Adkins won 405 games (354 at Jefferson City), a then national-record of 71 straight wins in the 1960s, and nine state championships.

But for 17 years, he had double-duty with the track and field program.

"I worked at that just as hard as I did football," Adkins said. "I wasn't as successful, but I put in as many hours and we had some great kids, they worked hard and we came close to winning two or three state championships. Just a point or two here and there ..."

* Larry York (1976-82), who won the school's first state track and field championship in 1978, when Licklider was an assistant coach;

* David Harris (1983-85), who was followed by Licklider, and now, Dan Ridgeway.

You can see another key to their success: Stability. For a span of 63 years, the program has had just six head coaches --- and four of those held the reigns that spanned a combined 51 years.

But it was under the tutelage of Licklider that the program went to the special level.

He was named the Missouri Track and Field Coach of the Year 13 times, the National Coach of the Year once, and was inducted into the Missouri Track and Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2003. (York is also a member of that elite group.) The track at Adkins Stadium was named after the Lickliders, honoring both Dennis and Roberta, in 2009.

The program has had waves of noteworthy athletes and individual champions, but one rises above all others --- Domenik Peterson, who is one of only two boys in state history to win the same event four straight years.

Peterson, who later competed at Arizona State, pulled off his four-peat in the 400-meter dash (from 2000-03) and he still holds the state record of 46.81 seconds set in 2003 --- a time that's nearly a half-second faster than the second-fastest time.

"It's just unheard of," Licklider said. "Not only the speed, but the strength that event takes. For a 15 year-old to do that, and then to win it four straight years, it's just amazing."

As is this program.