Thursday, February 18, 2016

V 6 N. 15 Conversations with Darryl Taylor Part One

This series of conversations with Darryl Taylor former 880 runner from Long Beach State and the old 49er Track Club began with a nice email from Darryl about the good old days, and we just kept adding things to the conversation.  Other parties joined in, and we wanted to share these with our readers because they bring to life what running was like over fifty years ago. We  begin with some memories of Darryl's high school days and then on to college and post graduate times.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.  

We had written earlier about Darryl as a coach in this post   several years ago.
A Tribute to Darryl Taylor   
You can get an idea of what kind of man Darryl is from this letter that came from one of his  former  athletes.



Here is what came in from Darryl  a few days  ago.   He is reminiscing about high school running in California in the late 50s.
George & Roy-Here is the narrative I spoke of earlier with a couple of photos related to the event. Hope you enjoy. Also, I will contact John Bork about the LA Foundation. I'm also in contact with Larry Knuth who hosts the "Old Guys" T&F reunion that took place this last week-end. I'm sure you will get an update on that event like you did last year. This year's event was again attended by some great ones: Laszlo Tabori-still on the mend after hip replacement surgery, Bob Soth-1960 Olympian from 1960, Chris Johnson-USC NCAA Indoor Mile Champion, Jim Bush, Ron Allice, Kevin Hogan, Gene Gurule, Dave Mellady and many, many more.
ALSO-I can copy DVDs also and will send this off in short order. Zamperini was something else!



Please excuse the errors. In the end, the details are essentially correct. Hope you enjoy a little blast from the past.
The other day, on my 75th birthday, I was going through a box of memories and got caught up in thinking about the past. In one box I found an original Mt. SAC Relays program from 1959, the first year of that now world renown multi-day competition. It was my senior year at Excelsior High School and our team was entered in the 2Mile Relay, an event we had won at the old Santa Ana Relays (8:10) and then at the Bellflower National Record Relays (8:07). The field was loaded with a host of nationally ranked teams and I would be anchoring against Leroy Neal of Fullerton, Dale Story of Orange, Larry Canova of Bellflower and Mike Howard of Rancho Alamitos, 1:57 men or better. We had a pretty good team with the potential of hitting8:00 flat which would require an average of 2:00.0 per man. I had recently run 1:57.3 at the Compton Cup, Steve Bruhns, a Junior had chipped in a 2:01 at Bellflower and Chonito Perez had recently broken our school record in the mile with a 4:28. Don Pickering filled out our team as we braved a cold night under the lights at this brand new stadium.
Our coach rightly picked Bellflower HIgh School as our main competition due to the fact that Larry Canova has clocked 1:53.8 in anchoring his team to a new National High School Record in the Sprint Medley Relay. With Bellflower and Excelsior both in the newly formed San Gabrial Valley League, I was very well aquainted with Canova's talent. Dale Story of Orange was the national leader in the mile in 1959 and would set a new high school record of 4:11.0. Leroy Neal was a 4:20 miler who would go on to set National JC records at Fullerton JC before racing for Occidental College. Mike Howard, of Rancho Alamitos High School was that school's 880 record holder at 1:57.4.
To say that I would be running scared does not do justice to the butterflies in my stomach while I was warming up with double sweats on while eyeing those other anchors who I looked up to with great admiration.
At 8:15 on the night of April 24th, 1959 the starter's pistol sent these 6 teams off!
This was a great moment!

My coach at Excelsior High School, Jack Newman, the man who is responsible for setting the direction of my life, had a simple strategy for this 2 Mile Relay: start with our slowest runner with instructions to hang as close to the leaders as possible. The second man was our second fastest with the job of catching the leaders and putting us into the lead before passing the baton to our miler. His carry was to try and build on whatever lead he inherited so that the anchor, being yours truly, at least had a shot at holding off that pack of wolves who would be chasing this very scared rabbit. In essence, he stuck with the formula that had taken us to victory and a school record at both the Santa Ana Relays and Bellflower National Records Relay. Why mess with a winning formula? Fine, fine but it would take some inspired racing to win this one in the face of these super-star anchors.
This newly built stadium was like all stadiums of the time, with those tall stadium lights focused on the football field, leaving the long straight-away fully illuminated while casting a deep shadow around both turns at either end of the track. So it was that Don Pickering took a deep breath, lined up in lane 6 and immediately plunged into the darkness around the first turn. Today’s standard Olympic style start/finish line was non-existent back then, which meant rather than finishing at the end of a long straight, all races started and finished in the middle of the track. All six teams had to run in lanes for the first 400 yards before breaking for the pole and with the 440 staggers it was hard to tell where we stood until each team came out of the turn and into the light.
I could see immediately that Don was running the race of his life. He broke for the pole in the middle of the pack and within a few strides of the leaders before descending into the shadows of that third turn. Meanwhile I was nervously pacing the sidelines, keeping my sweats on and staying warm for as long as possible, the tingling chills I was feeling more a result of nerves rather than the cold air. Along the back straight, I could see Don hanging in there just back of the leaders as they prepared to start their finishing kicks. Back in the shade of the final turn and finally emerging for the pass in a solid third place. Two weeks after hitting 2:04.4 at Bellflower, Don made his contribution with a life-time best of 2:03.8. DON PICKERING: 2:03.8 PR. Mission accomplished!
Next up was Steve Bruhns, a Junior who would medal in the CIF Championships later in the season at 660 yards. Steve wasted no time in cutting down the lead runners he chased into that first dark corner around the first turn. Mid-way along the far straight he was striding comfortably just off the shoulder of Bellflower’s # 2 man with both these guys separating from the pack. Steve paced his effort perfectly, drafting off the leader while waiting for the final 150 yards to kick into the lead and pull slightly away from Bellflower and the rest of the pack. Steve’s previous best was a fine 2:01.5 at Bellflower and no-one expected him to crack 2:00 as our youngest team member. Proving Coach Newman’s strategy as the right one, Steve blasted 1:59.8, put Chonito Perez into the lead, and dropped to the ground knowing he had done his part. STEVE BRUHNS: 1:59.8 PR-Mission accomplished.
Our miler, Chonito Perez, was a fierce competitor and though he never considered himself a middle-distance runner, he was not about to let the team down. His 2:03.7 PR from Bellflower Relays now came into focus as he ran in the lead while being chased by Bellflower, Orange and Fullerton. La Puente and Rancho Alamitos were now too far back to be considered a threat. As he ran his first 220, it was time to shed the warmth of my sweats, double check the laces of my Adidas spikes and finally look into the eyes of Larry Canova, Dale Story and Leroy Neal. Seeing the grim determination on their faces did little to settle my own nerves. The starter lined us up along the rail of the finish line, ready to place us in the exchange zone according to
to place us in the exchange zone according to each team’s position coming into the final exchange. Quite unexpectedly, through the first lap of his 3rd leg, Chonito didn’t give up any of the five yard lead he had inherited. Using the same efficient, choppy stride he was known for, he lengthened his lead down the back straight and made steady gains in the shadows of that final turn. The starter now lined us up shoulder to shoulder as I took the inside lane with a quick, final glance down the line at those three runners I had looked up to throughout my high school years. One last burst of effort and Chonito was holding out the baton, willing me to take it off his hands while hoping that he had done his part. At the exchange, it was hurrah for the miler and a nifty 2:02.6 carry that lengthened our lead to between 20 and 25 yards. CHONITO PEREZ: 2:02.6 PR-Mission accomplished.
So it all came down to this. My mates had all run their life-time bests, each one contributing to the lead I was handed and as I took the baton for the anchor. I had just a moment to see Bellflower 20 yards back, while Fullerton and Orange trailed by yet another 8-10 yards in 3rd and 4th. As I set off into the night, with a clear track in front of me, I could see Canova sliding over into lane one, waving his team mate to hurry with the stick so he could begin the chase. I had raced Canova early in the season and made a big mistake, choosing to follow his long striding lead no matter what happened in the final 220. I was truly overmatched on that one, struggling to hold onto 2nd place while he won going away over the final half lap. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake but at the same time I didn’t need eyes in the back of my head to know exactly what was going on behind me. That nice lead was being whittled down with each long stride from the flying Buccaneer. Running on pure nerves now I hit 56.2 for the first 440, eyes as big as tea-cups at that clear track in front of me. Most of today’s runners cannot appreciate the sound of long spikes digging into a freshly rolled track, giving fair warning to any leaders of an approaching chaser. Past the finish line and into the far turn and still no tell-tale sound of approaching spikes. Down the back straight and into that final darkened turn and the crowd came alive as the announcer reminded the crowd who was chasing the leader. All thoughts of hearing any chasing runners were now drowned out by the cheering spectators. Still, I had the lead! Out of the shadow and into the light for the final 55 yards to the finish line, I saw my Dad and my coach side by side on the railing. Dad’s face was obscured by the 8mm movie camera that was an extension of his right hand so he offered no clue. In contrast, my coach’s expression told me everything I needed to know. The first sign was a pair of elbows reaching into that open space that I had cherished for the past 800 yards. That clear air had belonged to me and was now being possessed by Larry Canova. At 6’-1” his long strides carried him to victory as I could only hope that Story and Neal would not follow in his wake. Across the finish line, holding onto 2nd place with a PR of my own left little room for any disappointment. Glancing over my shoulder I witnessed Story and Neal leaning for the finish line in a dead heat for 3rd place, one second back. My 1: 56.2 anchor took a full second off my previous best while our team’s 8:02.3 was a whopping five seconds off our newly minted school record from Bellflower Relays. DARRYL TAYLOR: 1:56.2 PR-Mission ?????? well partly accomplished.
These first four teams, Bellflower at 8:01.5, Excelsior 8:02.3, Orange & Fullerton 8:03.5 would all rank among the top 10 nationally in the 1959 season. Canova and I would both follow his coach to Cerritos College where at one point, we tied for a new school record at 1:54.5 and the national lead early in the season. Larry would lower that shared record to 1:54.0 while I returned a year later to recapture the record at 1:53.4, placing 6th in the Southern California JC Finals behind, you guessed it, Leroy Neal of Fullerton College. Dale Story, as mentioned, would go on to the National High School Record of 4:11.0 before heading for Oregon State where he won the NCAA Cross-Country Championships while running barefooted on an icy championship course in the mid-west.
All of these memories coming from a single old Mt. SAC RELAYS program 50 + years ago.

Darryl Martin Taylor's photo.

What I like best about this photo is that on the back, in red ink, was a note to us from Coach Newman. It read as follows:


"Haircuts needed by all four of you guys. Just starting to grow out again, and we expect a long hot summer ahead."




Don't ya just love Coach's attention to detail. I really miss getting together with him but so glad we could while we had the opportunity!


Darryl,
You pass my hair cut inspection.      

Check out the first entry we ever did on the blog   Dave Kamanski from Belleflower HS who is seen in that picture above shaking your hand is mentioned in the last 4 paragraphs.  Clickon his name below.   George
Kamanski


1 comment:

Richard Trace said...

well written. i was breathing hard by the end.