It’s called a “Carnival” and first time onlookers probably understand why.
It’s because, the Chuck Hardt Coed Relay Carnival takes on a cavalcade, street party look with athletes of both sexes competing alongside one another — sometimes running legs in opposite directions.
The format creates an almost frenzied, unorganized look for some spectators accustomed to traditionally-run meets. But the uniqueness of the Carnival allowed athletes from different events to enter events they might not compete in any other time during the season.
Among them are a mixed 4x100 relay, a mixed distance 4228 (400, 200, 200 and 800 meters) medley, a mixed distance medley and a mixed 4x100-meter shuttle hurdle relay.
It’s safe to say no other high school in the state hosts such a one-of-a-kind meet.
So, who’s responsible for such a distinctive style competition?
It’s the work of former Payson High School track coach Chuck Hardt and veteran assistant Chuck Yale.
The pair brainstormed the meet six years ago and since its inception it has become a popular draw on the prep track and field circuit attracting teams like Show Low, Blue Ridge, Mingus, Sedona and Fountain Hills.
The meet will be held this year beginning at 3 p.m., April 6 on PHS track. There is no admission charge.
Since the founding of the meet, Hardt has retired from coaching, but Yale continues to assist new coach Jonathan Ball.
In 2009, Yale, Ball and others decided to rename the meet, previously known as the Payson Invitational Coed relays, in honor of Hardt.
Hardt says he’s flattered the meet was named after him, but doesn’t want other pillars — Bill Lawson, Dan Reid and Ted Pettet — in the program’s foundation to be forgotten.
“There’s a lot of history in the program that might get lost and I don’t want that to be lost.”
Hardt contends those coaches that came before him are equally as deserving as he, and they were huge contributors to the school’s program.
In retirement, Hardt often retells the story of how he became head track and field coach in 1995.
“(Former head coach) Dan Reid asked Pete (Greer) and I to come on as assistants in 1993 and two years later, Dan stepped down,” he said.
“The head job was going to go to either Pete or I, so we decided to flip a coin. I lost and became the head coach.”
No matter what door Hardt went through to get the job, he stayed on as head coach until retiring in 2007.
Most of those years, Greer served as an assistant, specializing in the throws events.
Along Hardt’s and Greer’s way, the two coached some of the school’s finest athletes, sending some on to college programs at Arizona State, Colorado State and Northern Arizona.
“We had the chance to coach a lot of good kids,” Hardt said.
In 2009 he served as event starter, a job he’s done hundreds of times over the past two decades.
Last season he was unable to work as a starter due to family commitments, but says he will be the starter next week when the 2011 Carnival is held.
In addition to Hardt’s efforts in track and field, he founded the cross country program in 1992 as one of four volunteer coaches.
The following season, three of the coaches stepped away as Hardt remained the lone volunteer.
“In those days we had runners I called “Notch Babies” because they didn’t fit in the other programs so they became runners,” he said.
“To get athletes, I had to recruit from my PE classes and the hallways.”
Hardt, who taught in the PUSD from 1976 until retiring in 2007, was an assistant coach on the PHS state championship basketball (1979) and football (1981) teams.
In 2006-2007, he was head coach of the Longhorn basketball team that finished as state runner-up. During his tenure, he racked up enough Coach of the Year plaques to cover an entire wall of the family home.
In retirement, Hardt has taken up high school sports officiating.