The Eastern Washington University 1980 Men’s Track and Field team was one for the record books. On May 10, 1980, Eastern won the NAIA District 1 title for the sixth-straight year, scoring 289 points to double the total of runner-up Central Washington with 144.
However, a week after the district meet, as the Eagles prepared for national competitions on back-to-back weeks, Mount St. Helens erupted. In the days that followed the deadly eruption, ash fell throughout Eastern Washington, making training virtually impossible. To make matters worse, the team was scheduled to fly to Texas for the NAIA Championships, but the Spokane airport was closed.
“We contacted coach Martin and his first communication was the national meets were off for us because of the airport closure,” remembers Steve Quigley, an EWU shot put and discus competitor from 1976 to 1980. “We grouped together and went back to him with a proposal: if we get to Seattle and transfer flights could we still go?”
Coach Jerry Martin got permission from the president to arrange for the team to drive in private cars to Seattle, where Sea-Tac Airport was open. They needed vehicles for the coaches and athletes. Quigley volunteered his dad’s 1971 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.
“We used towels around the air cleaner to keep the ash intake down and stopped every 20 to 30 miles to bang out the towels,” Quigley says. “We weren’t sure the cars would make it, but no one cared, it was like a jail break.”
Quigley says the hasty group took side roads all the way to Ephrata, Washington because Interstate 90 was closed. Once in Central Washington the ash cleared, the team cut back onto I-90 and drove through to Seattle. The next day they flew to Abilene, Texas. “I didn’t tell my dad about the car until we got back,” adds Quigley.
The team would go on to place sixth in the NAIA Championships May 22-24 in Abilene, and one week later fourth in the NCAA Division II Championships May 29-31 in Pomona, California. For coach Martin, who spent 18 seasons as Eastern’s head track and field coach during stints from 1972-86 and 1993-95, the national finishes for the 1980 team were the best in his tenure at Eastern. The team was inducted into the Eastern Washington University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019.
The Spokesman-Review featured the perseverance of the 1980 EWU men’s track and field team in it’s special Mount St. Helens 40th anniversary coverage. Read more below.
Below are photos from the EWU Archives and Special Collections showing some of the images from EWU and the Cheney area in the days following the Mount St. Helens eruption.