It’s where All-Americans and Olympians are born.
The 45th annual Elks Invitational invades Fallon on Saturday as close to 40 teams from Nevada and California visit the Lahontan Valley in the first large meet of the season. Events start at 8:30 a.m. at the Edward Arcinienga Athletic Complex as the mainstay invitational showcases some of the best talent in the Silver State, including several Greenwave standouts.
“Everybody’s here,” Fallon girls coach Paul Orong said. “It shows us against the 4A and shows all the tremendous athletes in the lower levels. People start standing out. A lot of 4A schools just had conference meets. Now, everybody’s getting together and you can see who’s the best in Northern Nevada in any conference. It’s going to be the best competition we’re going to see so far.”
It’s also a chance for the Greenwave to show the hometown that something special is brewing this season. For 2001 Fallon grad and Olympian Aarik Wilson, the Elks Invitational stands out as one of the best meets.
“The biggest thing that stood out for me with the Elks Invite was definitely being able to compete on our home track,” said Wilson, who now works at F.A.S.T., a training program in Reno. “There is nothing quite like getting to tear up the track you practice on, especially with all of the hometown support right there.”
Fallon, like many of the schools in the region, opened the season two weeks ago with a small conference meet before traveling to Lyon County last weekend for the 84th annual Yerington Relays. The Greenwave has so far shown that it will challenge for the top spot in both the boys and girls divisions. T.J. Mauga (shot put and discus) and Colton Peterson (sprints) have stood out on the boys side, while Utah State signee Whitney Skabelund leads a strong jumping corps.
The last time Fallon won a team title at the Elks was in 2011 in the small school division before bumping to the large school group a year later. In 2012 and 2013, the boys took second while the girls have never won a team title. But it could change this year.
“I think a lot of kids are excited when looking at the number of schools and kids who are coming,” said Fallon boys coach Steve Heck, who has 38 teams coming to Fallon this weekend. “For the younger kids, it’s a little intimidating. The excitement of competing at home with such a large crowd, it’s exciting. It’s new and something they haven’t experienced before.”
Wilson still remembers his freshman year with the Greenwave and competing in the Elks Invitational for the first time. His favorite moment was competing in the long jump when he leaped 19 feet, 2 inches. Wilson would later specialize in the triple jump where he won it his last three years in Fallon in addition to one more long jump title.
“It was my first meet with the varsity and I was lucky enough to get second in the long jump,” said Wilson, who won the triple jump at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. “I wasn’t good enough to compete in the triple jump yet at that meet.”
But Wilson wasn’t the only Fallon athlete to dominate the Elks.
Brandon Hockenberry won the long and triple jumps in 2006 after taking the triple jump title in 2005. Sarah Burton won both the long and triple in 2007, while Heck’s two sons, Greg and Nathan, each won a pole vault title with Nathan also taking the 110 hurdles. In the 1990s, Rachel Sorensen captured all three jumping events in 1997 and Dixie Williams was one of the best hurdlers from 1992-94. In the 1980s, Todd Anderson won the triple jump twice and Matt Biddinger was the discus and shot put champion during the 1987 and 1988 seasons.
“We’ve just had some tremendous performances over the year,” coach Heck said. “Every year, it seems like we get a couple records broken. We get the best of the best of the north out here. Last year, we had four meet records broken. We had a great time in the 4x8. There’s always something. It’s just exciting to see those kinds of performances on the home track. Everyone’s excited and cheering. It’s neat to have it happen in Fallon.”
Both Heck and Orong have seen their share of impressive performances at the Elks Invitational throughout the years. Records fall and some of these student-athletes find careers in college and even in the pros, like Wilson. Fallon’s Tristen Thomson broke the school’s 800-meter record last year as a senior at the Elks Invitational and is now running at Division II Concordia University in Irvine, Calif. Heck’s son, Nathan, is a sophomore pole vaulting at Division I Idaho State.
None of this would be possible, however, if it were not for the volunteers.
About 70 help the Fallon program on the biggest Saturday in March and without their help, both Heck and Orong said the meet would stumble and not run so smooth.
“The kids are all responsible to bring somebody and then we have the diehards,” Heck said of the volunteer group. “We get a lot of compliments about how well we run things. It’s an organizational mess for me to get it down. Without them, it wouldn’t happen.”
The Elks Invitation kicks off the large meets with the two-day Reed meet next weekend. Fallon, though, will get to host another large meet at the end of the season with the regional qualifier. That meet, like the Elks, will benefit from the strong support of the volunteers and community, which Wilson still remembers as the biggest reason for its success.
“The Elks Invitational is definitely one of — if not — the best run meet in the state,” said Wilson, who was an All-American at Indiana. “The organization and attention to detail is second to none. There was definitely more than a few collegiate and international competitions that I wish would take notes from our crew.”