Whitener family

Mildred, Josh and Doug Whitener pose for a photo during Josh’s football game at Windsor. Josh wore his dad’s retired No. 30 for the Owls.

For more than 40 years, Jim Kasten has seen the best runners in Jefferson County.

Kasten was the head coach of the boys track and field team at Windsor in 1978 when the Owls won the Class 2A state championship, still the only one in school history in any sport.

Doug Whitener was the key to that state title, winning the 100-yard dash in 9.85 seconds, the 220 in 22.3, the 440 in 48.9 and anchoring the Windsor 4x440 relay to second place. All of Whitener’s open times are still school records; they’re not likely to be broken because high school track events moved to metric measurements not long after Whitener’s era. He was elected to the Windsor Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 2007.

Kasten, the City Administrator for Herculaneum, has coached track and cross country at Herculaneum for years and was named to the Missouri Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010.

“Doug was the most talented male athlete I ever coached,” he said. “He was a fierce competitor. He was 165 pounds dripping wet but could bench (press) 300 pounds. His senior year he ran 47 individual races and he won them all.”

Mr. Whitener, 61, died on April 5, leaving behind an athletic legacy commemorated in the trophy case at Windsor High. He played tailback for the Owl football team and was named all-state two times. He also lettered in basketball. Even with his talent on the track, Whitener got a scholarship to play football at Illinois State University in Normal. But his gridiron career ended prematurely when he injured a knee before the start of his freshman season.

“He ran a lot like Tony Dorsett,” Kasten said, comparing Whitener to the Hall of Fame running back for the Dallas Cowboys. “He didn’t have the big cutback move. He went through the hole and took off and the pursuit would get their feet tangled up and fall down.”

Even highly trained and ultra-talented athletes have limits to their stamina and endurance. Overcoming mental and physical obstacles is what separates the champions from the rest of the pack. Kasten said Whitener found that out as a junior in 1977.

“Near the end of that year he beat a kid (in a sprint) he never beat before,” Kasten said. “He came into the coach’s office and he told me, ‘Coach, I’ve learned how to control it.’ I said, ‘Control what, Dougie?’ He said, ‘I can control the pain.’ When you run the 400, your rear end and legs and lungs are on fire. He pointed to his head and said, ‘I learned to control the pain now.’”

Kasten recalled that in the 4x440 at state, Whitener took the baton 60 yards behind the second-place runner and overhauled him with 40 yards to go. His split was 47 seconds.

“That was the kind of competitor he was,” Kasten said. “He was such an inspiration to the younger kids who saw what speed really looks like.”

Whitener wasn’t just fast on the track or the playing field, either, as Kasten illustrated with a vivid anecdote.

“It’s what I call, ‘Fast-twitch speed,’” Kasten said. “He was home from college and we invited him and his girlfriend to eat with us. My wife said, ‘there’s a mouse in the pantry, I can hear him in there eating chips.’ Doug got here and I gave him a broom and told him when the mouse runs out, swat him. I thought he’d hit it with the broom end, but he spiked it with the other end right on the floor. The mouse was flying.”

Ken Weik, the former head football coach at Windsor, Crystal City and Ste. Genevieve, was a freshman on the Windsor JV track team when Whitener was a senior. Weik’s older brother, Rick, was on the 4x440 relay team at state and Ken traveled along as an alternate. 

“(Whitener) was phenomenal to watch,” Ken Weik said. “The thing that stuck out most to me about Doug were his workouts. He trained just as hard as he ran during meets. He didn’t lose a race in practice either. He didn’t have to do what he did in practice, but he still did.”

The Whitener family’s loss doubled on May 1 when Mildred Whitener died. She and the late Arthur Whitener were the parents of Doug and his brother Darrell, also deceased. Mildred and Arthur have two surviving children: David, who lives in Texas, and Deena (Billy) Truka of Imperial.

Doug’s sons, Brian and Josh, live in Imperial. Both were standout athletes at Windsor like their dad. Josh remembers his grandparents being at all of his games and meets. He said it’s been a tough two months for his family. Doug and Mildred were in the same hospital on the same floor. COVID-19 restrictions limited them to only one visitor a day.

“My grandma picked me up from practice and school every day,” Josh said. “She never missed a meet or game either. Grandpa did the chain gang at my football games.”

Determined to show their dad they both had his athletic genes, Brian and Josh played football and ran track at Windsor and competed with the Jefferson County Jets track club. Josh was a two-time state qualifier in the 400 and still holds the school record in 49.89.

“I love having the record,” said Josh, who worked for the National Parks Service for five years and then went into construction.

When Josh played football for the Owls, his father’s jersey No. 30 had been retired by the school, but they let Josh wear the number. Josh remembers leaving class to watch his dad be inducted into the hall of fame, then later that night catching two passes for 107 yards against Hillsboro as his dad and the other hall of fame inductees took in the game.

Josh lived with his father until his death.

“I always wanted to make him proud,” he said.