Bob Neylan can still tell you exactly why he got hooked on running the hurdles.
The Dover native used to watch an athlete named Ronnie Bowhall run the hurdles for Dover High in the late 1950s.
Bowhall won the state championship in the 120-yard high hurdles in 1958.
“When I was a kid, I used to watch him,” said Neylan. “And I just loved watching the hurdles.”
That’s when Neylan decided he needed to run the hurdles, too.
But, while Neylan ended up excelling in the hurdles himself, his love of track & field eventually grew beyond just the one event.
Neylan became a coach, leading Dover High’s boys’ squad to three Division I state titles between 1975-80.
Now, after a lifetime of involvement in the sport, the 72-year-old Neylan is going into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.
Neylan and nine other members of the Class of 2015 will be officially inducted into the Hall on Tuesday evening at the annual banquet at the Chase Center on the Wilmington Riverfront.
Also a member of Delaware’s Track & Field Hall of Fame, Neylan thought the fact that he cared so much about the sport meant something to Dover’s athletes.
“There’s a lot of schools that will just tell somebody to go out and coach track,” he said. “But I took a lot of pride in it because I love track. And when I got my assistants, they loved track.
“When kids came into our program, they really saw that these coaches cared and it made a big difference in how they performed.”
Of course, Neylan admits that he also had some pretty remarkable athletes to work with at Dover. Athletes like Ukee Washington, Mike Meade, Jim Solomon and Steve Pickering helped the Senators go 107-13 in dual meets from 1973-82.
Washington and Meade are also members of the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.
Neylan was named the Henlopen Conference Coach of the Year six times in that era. In the nine seasons between 1974 and ‘82, Dover finished in the top three in the state in Division I a total of seven times.
“They were just good,” he said about the athletes from those years. “And they just loved competing.”
Meade, who went on to play football in the NFL, says Neylan was “one of the most important and influential people in helping me achieve my goal.”
“Coach was a technician and perfectionist who demanded the same from me and my teammates,” Meade said in a Facebook post.
Solomon has been the coach of the Senators’ girls’ track & field program since 1989 while coaching both the boys and girls since ‘97. He was a member of Neylan’s first Dover squad in 1972.
“In was his first year so the enthusiasm and the knowledge that he brought across the board — in all events — was impressive,” said Solomon. “(His enthusiasm) is second to none. I think some of that’s rubbed off on me.
“Being a historian myself of track & field, I kind of look at his model as far as what his teams looked like.”
As a runner, Neylan won the 120-yard high hurdles state title for Dover in 1963, setting a state mark in an open meet of 14.4 seconds. He competed in the event for two years at the University of Alabama before joining the Air Force.
A few years later, after attending Wesley College, Neylan found himself a student athletic trainer at Florida State. When the track coach there discovered that the 28-year-old still had some eligibility remaining, Neylan ran hurdles as a Seminole for one season.
“I thought it was great,” said Neylan. “Here I was an old man. (Coach) Mike Long called me the best ‘hurdler-trainer’ in the United States.”
Along with coaching, Neylan also stayed involved with the sport as an administrator and official. He was chairman of Delaware’s high school state track & field committee for 11 years and director of the state meet for 13 years.
Neylan still officiates at high school meets occasionally.
Fittingly, the hurdles — the event that first grabbed Neylan’s interest — is still Dover’s signature event. Senator runners have won 31 state championships in the various hurdle distances since Bowhall first took the title in ‘58.
Current Dover senior Mykele Sanders has won the 300-meter hurdles state crown three years in a row.
“The first time I was out there I walked up to him,” Neylan said about Sanders. “He knew who I was because Jimmy had told him about me. “I said, ‘Listen, we’re now in the same fraternity.’
“He looked at me and said, ‘Fraternity?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’re in the Dover High hurdle fraternity.’”
Cape’s Lingo also honored
The other downstater in this year’s Delaware Sports Hall of Fame class is former field hockey standout Carrie Lingo, who went from Cape Henlopen High to representing the U.S. in the sport.
After a memorable collegiate career at North Carolina, Lingo was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 50th anniversary team as one of the league’s top 50 players in the sport.
In 2008, Lingo was a member of the U.S. squad that played in the Beijing Olympics. She tallied a total of 19 goals in international competitions and finished her career captaining the national team from 2009-11.
At Cape Henlopen, Lingo was a three-time All-Stater who helped the Vikings win the state title in 1995. She was also an All-State softball player.
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or email@example.com.