The freshmen on the current Edward Little High School girls’ track and field team likely don’t remember the last time the squad lost a regular-season meet.
Most of them were probably still in diapers. Cell phones were still reserved for businessmen in big cities, the Internet relied on phone lines, and most high school meet records were still kept on paper.
Lots and lots of paper.
Not even in Steve Robertson’s wildest dreams did he expect that the Red Eddies would still be unbeaten today.
“I never in a million years thought we’d get that far,” said Robertson, who coached the squad through its first 100 consecutive victories. He handed the program over to current coach Rebecca Hefty after the 2003 campaign.
“I knew we had a good program, and we knew we were going to continue to build upon what we had, but I don’t think anybody thinks about things going on that long,” Robertson said.
For the record, Edward Little has defeated 187 regular-season opponents in succession.
The streak began with a bang. After narrowly missing out on a state title in 1998, the Eddies rattled off three consecutive championships from 1999-2001.
Since then, four other teams have won the state championship. Last year, Edward Little stopped Scarborough’s streak of three, earning its first since 2001 and fourth overall.
This year, EL biggest test to date has been the Scarborough Relays, where the Eddies repeated as champs. Prior to that, the tightest margin of victory since the streak began with a blowout win in a dual meet with Lewiston late in 1997 was a 7-point victory over South Portland in 2002.
“I told Hefty, ‘When you hit 100, we’re going out for dinner together,'” Robertson said. “We’re both a part of that.”
Robertson then conceded that Hefty is, in fact, on a much quicker pace than he was.
“She’s got a much better success rate than I had,” Robertson said with a laugh, “but certainly we were all about building the program, and she’s continued a lot of the traditions we had, and she’s also molded a lot of things to truly make it hers. I’m real proud of where the program is.”
The admiration is mutual. Hefty, who began as an assistant under Robertson at EL before taking over at the head coach, acknowledged his contributions as the foundation for the current team’s success.
“I feel like it’s a tribute to what he started,” Hefty said. “Maybe he didn’t go out being recognized as much as he should have, but I feel like he started it all, and I owe that piece to him.”
And while the Eddies have been blessed over the years with some special athletes, for many of the seasons during the streak, team depth was more important, especially in smaller, mid-season contests.
“It’s getting the kids that you say, ‘Where did this kid come from?'” Robertson said. “It’s getting them, and molding them into great athletes, working on their desire to get better, and Rebecca does that.”
And, she does it all trying not to think too much about the streak.
“I still go into a meet with the team, trying not to be concerned about a streak,” Hefty said. “What’s always most important is what’s in front of us, and our individual performances, and we move onto the next meet, but it’s not always that easy.”
The Eddies will again put it on the line this weekend with three more big-name opponents at the last regular-season meet of the season, when Brewer and Bangor join EL at Lewiston.
“I keep telling the team, and they don’t quite understand, how competitive this meet is going to be,” Hefty said. “Especially going into KVACs and into the state track meet.”
Perhaps it’s better that way, too.
“Sometimes, I think the kids are delusioned with some of that stuff,” Hefty said. “It’s like, ‘OK, that’s a meet done, let’s move on now.’ Even in the indoor season, when we weren’t doing that well, they were like, ‘OK, we can improve for the next time, we’ll keep working at it.’ I’m not sure that they quite understand the significance of it.”