Many talented Morenci distance runners have tried to run a better mile than Rich Towne who set the standard in 1965. Until last week, every one of them had failed.
Enter Morenci junior Zach Phillips. His name will take the place of Towne on the record board as Morenci’s most enduring track feat has finally fallen.
Phillips’s best 1600-meter run last year was 4:58, bast week at the DTII county meet, he finished at 4:31.2 for a new record to eclipse the 4:33.6 set by Towne.
A week before the race, Phillips looked through the 1965 Observers and finally located Towne’s record-setting run. It was the last race of his high school career—the state meet at Mt. Pleasant. He ran a 4:35.2 mile, which was later converted to a 1600-meter equivalent.
Phillips had recently run a disappointing 1600-meter race at the regional meet and missed qualifying for the state competition. Life soured more when a running mentor, Johnnie Pike, died in a house fire.
That tragedy might have provided Phillips with the inspiration he needed to win.
Blissfield’s Justin Bateson led for the first three laps at the county event.
“I knew he would go out fast,” Morenci coach Brad Brown said, “and Zach let him lead.”
The pace was almost where Brown wanted it half way through the race, but a slow third lap had him worried.
Addison’s Donnie Freed made his move for the final trip around and Phillips went with him. At the 200-meter mark, Phillips turned the race around.
“Zach just took off and blew him away,” Brown said. “It was exciting and it was pretty emotional. Under the circumstances, I thought it was an amazing performance.”
Phillips said he saw the clock before that final lap and he knew it was possible.
“I definitely did it for Johnnie,” he said. “That’s what pulled me through.”
Phillips has another season to improve on his own record and also to go after the 800-meter record, now 24 years old. Phillips has come within a second of matching that mark.