Flandreau’s boys track team was the underdog that nobody mentioned as potential champs when the 1972 team won the state event.
Two more championships followed in 1973 and 1974. The team was runner up in 1975.
“We weren’t expected to be a contender,” said Gus Barnes, head track coach at the time. He and assistant coach John Evans sat down and plotted out the events, focusing on what the team needed to do. Then Barnes gave a pep talk.
“They all thought they could win,” Barnes said. “They all went out and did the best they could.”
Barnes, 88, and Evans, who died in 2019 at age 77, will be honored at the Flandreau Invitational Track and Field event Saturday, with a ceremony that names the track after them. The meet starts at 11 a.m. and the dedication will be at noon. A rain date is reserved for 6 p.m. May 11.
“I guess it’s really an honor. I really didn’t think it was necessary,” said Barnes, who was instrumental in getting the district’s present eight-lane, all-weather track.
Many people were involved in supporting the new track for the school, he said. Before that, student athletes ran on the dirt track east of the existing stadium complex.
Barnes came to Flandreau in 1967 as a high school social science teacher and primarily track and basketball coach. The high school track high jumper and basketball player became track coach in 1969. In 1975, he was honored as Track Coach of the Year, and in 1997, was elected to the South Dakota Coaches Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the South Dakota Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.
Evans assisted as track coach with Barnes, and also was assistant football coach with Jim McGlone for 28 years. The field was named for McGlone in 2019. In 1985, Evans became head boys and girls track coach, a spot he held until he retired in 2001.
A Kadoka native, he was assistant coach of the year in football in 1988, Dakota Wesleyan University Alumni Coach of the Year in 1990 and Region Track Coach of the year in 2000 and 2001.
Evan’s wife, Florence Evans, said her husband enjoyed working with kids. “He just loved it. He always looked forward to track. He was always disappointed when they (meets) had to be called because of weather,” she said.
Her husband also got along really well with Barnes, too.
“They were very committed,” she said. Evans taught social studies and became the guidance counselor.
As many of her family members that can come to the dedication will because of recognition of John, she said. “I think that’s an honor.” The couple had four children, three girls, and a son, Steven, who died at age 39 from cancer.
Barnes’ wife, Susan, said her husband could relate to students who didn’t always enjoy the academic part of school.
“I was a high school dropout,” said Barnes, who went to school for the sports. After a basketball loss his senior year, he left high school and didn’t return to graduate. Instead he joined the Air National Guard and served during the Korean War, where he was an air policeman. He earned his GED, went to college and earned a master’s degree.
Barnes grew up near Harrisburg and earned his degree from General Beadle State Teachers College, now Dakota State University, where he played basketball. He taught in Big Stone City, Chancellor, Hartford and Marietta, Minn., before coming to Flandreau. He and his wife have four children, including two who became teachers.
After years in the classroom in Flandreau, Barnes became principal, retiring for the first time in 1989. He ended up going back to school two more times to temporarily fill in for others, finally retiring in 1992.
Barnes said he in addition to the athletes he coached and their determination to do well, the school community made it known that they were backing the Fliers track team. At one state meet, the team got a gift of money, enough to pay for a steak supper after the events ended.
“They were real dedicated. We had good fan support,” he said.
Fifty years later, not much has changed.