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Former Rogers track standout, state champion Denny Driskill dies at 83

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 10, 2020

Former Rogers track standout Denny Driskill, right, races against Ritzville’s Spike Arlt in 1956.  (The Spokesman-Review)
Former Rogers track standout Denny Driskill, right, races against Ritzville’s Spike Arlt in 1956. (The Spokesman-Review)
By Chuck Stewart The Spokesman-Review

Denny Driskill was a state champion.

The former Rogers standout won a lot of titles and accolades at all levels through the years, but the one we’re going to focus on is the 1956 Washington State High School Track Championships’ 180-yard low hurdles title at Rogers Field on the Washington State campus in Pullman.

Driskill, who died Wednesday in Spokane at age 83, collected the winner’s medal, some revenge and a stomach full of scrapes.

Spokesman-Review sports writer Dick Dillman called the race between Driskill and Ritzville star Spike Arlt “the best of the day with both hurdlers dead even until the next-to-last barrier.

“Arlt veered slightly after that hurdle and the advantage gained by Driskill was enough for a win. The Rogers runner, determined not to be taken in the run-in, lunged at the tape and took a nasty spill.”

S-R sports editor Bill Boni, in his column “Writing Out Loud,” wrote, “Watching through field glasses you could tell, right from start, that this was going to be a nip-and-tuck run.

“… they charged into those final yards leading into the tape, and a stride away from it, Driskill launched his body forward in an out-an-out dive.

“The blond Rogers boy knew what he was risking when he did it, and suffered the consequences: A nasty-looking scrape on his belly muscle just below his ribs, another higher up on his chest and still others on his back, thigh and elbows.

“There was red blood mixed with the grimy gray-black of the cinders,” added Boni, noting WSU trainers were there quickly to tend to Driskill.

“That guy beat me in the final run” in the tri-district meet the week before, Boni quoted Driskill. “I just knew that was the place I wasn’t going to get (caught) this time.”

In getting revenge, Driskill eclipsed the state record he had set a year before as a junior by two-tenths of a second with a 19.4-second time. The record was disallowed, however, because of a following wind on the rainy, blustery day.

Driskill, who earned a football scholarship to Central Washington, played his freshman year and ran track in the spring, winning the Evergreen Conference title in the low hurdles and tying the record in the process, before leaving school and taking a two-year break to serve in the Navy.

During the course of that first year on campus, the Central student newspaper, the Campus Crier, called Driskill “the freshman flash of the hurdles events” and “the wonder boy of Central’s cinder club.”

When he returned to Central after his stint in the Navy, Driskill focused on his true love, track and field, and in 1960 was an NAIA All-American for his performance at the national championships in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Driskill later transferred to Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, “where he could run track year-round,” said his wife, Myrna. “Outdoors and indoors.”

At one time ranked seventh in the nation in the intermediate hurdles, Driskill was an accomplished decathlete in college and received invitations to U.S. Olympic Decathlon Trials in 1960 and 1964.

“He didn’t do as well in the decathlon,” Myrna said. Built for speed, “he did well in the sprints and the hurdles, and the running events, but he didn’t do as well in the weights because of his size.”

Driskill wound up at Whitworth in 1962, running the 440 and the high and low hurdles for the Pirates as he finished up work on a degree that would launch a highly successful teaching and coaching career.

“We met in 1963 when I was a teacher at North Central and he was student teaching,” Myrna said. “We got married in 1964.”

That fall he started his career in Cashmere, Washington, where he stayed for two years before moving on to Central Valley. After seven years at CV, Driskill decided to take break from teaching.

His return was at Coulee Dam, where he got interested in Native American studies, Myrna said.

That led to a sojourn into Canada, where he taught at three small villages in northern Alberta, two of which were accessible only by bush plane.

“He wanted the kids to experience minorities,” she said of their three young children.

That same nomadic drive also led him to take a job for a semester in Newtok, Alaska, on the Bering Sea, filling a staff vacancy, Myrna said.

“He coached basketball and when they would take a (road) trip, they’d go by bush plane and the kids would all take sleeping bags,” she said. “They’d sleep on the gym floor, the school would feed them, and the next morning they’d get back on the bush plane and fly home.”

After leaving Alaska, Driskill went to Bickleton, Washington, for a year before returning to the area and taking a teaching and coaching position at Deer Park in 1984, where he served until retiring in 1997.

Not all of his stops included teaching, Myrna said, but all included coaching. One of those was at Ferris, where he guided the Saxons to the State AAA girls cross country championship in 1980 following a runner-up finish the year before. That was the first Eastern Washington girls team to win a state title.

Myrna said Driskill wasn’t one to brag about his accomplishments.

“I didn’t know all the things he did,” she said. “His mother kept a pretty good scrapbook. When I read all the articles, I was very impressed with my husband.

“He coached track in all the places where he taught, and usually some other sports, too. Every place he coached, he took at least one of his kids to state. He had an uncanny sense of knowing what (event) a kid was good at. That’s why they had so much success.”

Driskill had a stroke in 2017 that left him with some paralysis and speech problems, Myrna said.

Because of his great physical condition – he continued to work out regularly after retirement – “he lived three years and one week after the stroke,” she said. “His heart just stopped beating.”

Besides his wife of 56 years, Driskill is survived by a son, Tye; daughters Tabetha Bren (Andy) and Kamie Blad (Dale); six grandchildren, Tycie Monson (Brian), Carson Driskill, McLaine Driskill, Aubry Blad, Ayla Swart (Manny), Aunya Blad; and three great-grandchildren, Christian Monson, Jonas Monson and Emerson Monson.

Services will be held Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 14111 E. 16th Ave. in Veradale.

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