Saturday, April 29, 2017

V 7 N. 29 Harold Keith at Penn Relays 1928


Harold Keith
(1903-1998)

Last weekend I spent several days renewing friendships with old track team members at the University of Oklahoma.  We sat in a new (to us) stadium complex and froze our backsides watching modern day Sooners performing on the same geographical coordinates where we all had plied our trade and dreamed our dreams 55 years ago.  In that gathering of former athletes were lawyers, doctors, a federal judge, an advertising executive, and pharmacists, coaches, politicians, oil men, and teachers.  Few  of us could have matched our times and distances with  today's class of  athletes unless we had been born fifty years later and had the training knowledge and facilities and coaching available in this more enlightened age.

In our conversations, the name, Harold Keith, came up several times.   Mr. Keith was the sports information director at the university for many years.  He was said to have created more All-American football players with his pen than the football coaches did with their clipboards and whistles. When we were freshman at Oklahoma, the track coach of that time, Bill Carroll, (1953 NCAA pole vault champion) would tell some of us that we had been selected to spend a few hours each week in Harold Keith's office doing whatever task was needed.  This usually consisted of going through all the Sunday newspapers from around the Big 8 Conference and clipping any news story written about or mentioning   Oklahoma University sports teams.  The first day in the office I walked in and his secretary told me to go in back and do whatever Mr. Keith needed.  I had to step  over newspapers and clippings strewn across the floor and immediately began picking them up.  Harold polltely told me not to bother, as that was his Monday morning filing system.  I was to go through those papers and start clipping.  It soon became evident that this was an important room to spend my free time in, because those papers gave me access to information about all the people I would be running against for the next four years.  Apart from the monthly issues of Track and Field News everything I needed to know was in that office.  This was forty years before the internet, track blogs,  Flotrack and instant communication with the rest of the world.
Harold had run track for the Sooners back in the 1920's and modestly mentioned a few things about his career.  I believe at that time his name was still on the locker room wall  as holder of the 2 mile steeplechase record.  He told me about running in the state high school track meet away from the stadium track due to flooding.  Instead the meet  was run on the north oval of the  campus.  He never mentioned his other accomplishments, like being the author of 17 books, winner of the Newbury Award in literature, being president of the American Sports Information Directors,  being in the Helms Foundation, and certainly not being the Penn Relays steeplechase champion of 1928.  When he won that event it was the first time he had even seen a steeplechase setup.   It all came about, because his distance medley team had been forgotten about and not brought out to the track by Penn Relays officals in time to start their race.  To make up for missing their race, the four Oklahoma runners were allowed to enter the steeplechase, and Harold won it, and two other Sooners got 4th and 5th place.

Special thanks to Pete Brown, Plano, TX and U. of New Mexico without whose knowledge and love of our sport, this story would still be sitting on someone's shelf.  GB


Below you can read the account of that race from the Stanford Daily  of May 8, 1928.



SPORTS OF 1928
At the Penn Relays
BY "FEG MURRAY, '16
The two outstanding features of the Penn Relays, held last Friday and Saturday at Franklin Field, Philadelphia, under atrocious weather conditions, were the remarkable sprinting of the famous Charley Paddock, of California, and the performance in the 3000-meter steeplechase of Harold Keith, of Oklahoma.
Paddock, in running 175 yards in 17 2-5 seconds, set perhaps the most phenomenal record of his long and illustrious career, as he not only ran in better than even time on a track ankle-deep in mud, but had to swerve to one side to avoid trampling on forty or fifty spectators, who fell onto the side of the track where he was running when a part of the south wall of the stadium gave way while the race was in progress. Keith, who with three other Oklahomans, owes his entrance into the steeplechase event to a misunderstanding, had never seen or heard of such a race before last Friday, and not only took the hurdles and the water jump like a veteran, but outraced some star cross-country runners who knew what it was all about. Keith's winning time of 10 minutes 9 4-5 seconds is about half a minute slower than Willie Ritola's winning time at the Paris Olympics, but the Oklahoma boys have gone back home with the avowed intention of building a steeplechase course and practicing up on the event. Paddock has been criticized because he did not stop running when he saw
the wall crash about fifty yards in front of him, and go to the assistance of those who had fallen. He told me after the race that his first reaction was to stop—that the race was "off" • —but that the pounding feet of his competitors urged him on. Anyway, by the time he could have slowed down and turned around, all the fallen spectators would have been picked up by the many officials, athletes, and others who lined the other side of the track.


Here is Harold Keith's obituary from the February 25, 1998  News OK website.  There are some very good details of his running career as a Masters athlete as well as the Penn Relays steeplechase win.

NORMAN - Harold Keith, an award-winning author and a pioneer in turning the publicizing of college athletes and sports into a respected profession during his 39 years at the University of Oklahoma, died Tuesday evening at the age of 94.
Keith died of congestive heart failure at Norman Regional Hospital. He was admitted to the hospital Wednesday. Services are pending with Primrose Funeral Home in Norman.
Keith was born in Lambert, Oklahoma Territory, April 8, 1903, and attended school at Watonga, Victoria (Texas), Joplin (Mo.) Lambert and Northwestern State before getting his bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Oklahoma.
He was a champion distance runner at OU before then-football coach and athletic director Bennie Owen hired him as "sports publicity director" in 1930.
Keith helped convert the job from that of "tub-thumper" into a dispenser of information - and assistance - to the ever-growing media.
Keith was founder and served as president of the College Sports Information Directors of America and received its prestigious Arch Ward Award in 1961.
Keith received OU's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Citation, in 1987.
He received a Contributions to Amateur Football Award from the Oklahoma Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
He was inducted into the sports information directors sector of the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.
On the latter occasion, he said, "I accept this honor on behalf of all the college sports information directors I've worked with through the years. We belonged to a group that rarely gets decorated for anything. We were too busy decorating others. It was our job."
Keith, who was nicknamed "Grantland" (as in famed sportswriter Grantland Rice) by ex-Sooner basketball coach Bruce Drake, wrote two books on OU football, "Oklahoma Kickoff" covering the early years of 1895 to 1920 and "Forty Seven Straight!" chronicling the record victory streak compiled by Bud Wilkinson's teams from 1953 to 1957.
But most of Keith's 16 books were of the non-sports, fiction variety and aimed at younger audiences. His first, "Boys Life of Will Rogers," was published in 1936. His 1940 book, "Sports and Games," was a Junior Literary Guild selection in 1940.
Four other books won national honors: the 1957 Newbery Award for "Rifles for Watie;" the 1965 New York Times Best Book Award for "Komantica;" the 1974 and 1978 Western Heritage Association's Wrangler Awards to "Susy's Scoundrel" and "The Obstinate Land;" and the 1974 Western Writers of America Spur Award to "Susy's Scoundrel."
The prestigious Newbery Award is given for the nation's best young adult book of the year. The book is still assigned to junior high students in many states, and Keith still corresponded with students who discovered "Rifles for Watie" each year. His Newbery Medal is on display at the Norman Public Library.
Six of his books were reprinted by Levite of Apache of Norman. "Komantcia" was followed by a sequel, "The Sound of Strings," published on Keith's 90th birthday. Publication of an existing, unpublished manuscript, "Chico and Dan," is planned on his 95th birthday in April.
His contributions to the state's literary heritage were honored with induction into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame and presentation of the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for the Book in the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
Keith was just as proud of the "awards" he won running, which he loved equally with the University of Oklahoma, writing and barbershop quartet singing.
Keith ran the mile anchor leg on the all-victorious Sooner medley relay team that swept the Texas, Rice and Kansas Relays in 1928. The team was favored in the ensuing Penn Relays but didn't run.
Keith explained why: "When we came out for the race, it was raining hard so they told us to go back under the stands and they would come get us. They forgot us and when we came back out, our race was half over."
Coach John Jacobs' frustrated runners decided to enter an unfamiliar event, the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Keith won it. Two other OU runners finished fifth and sixth.
Keith also was Missouri Valley Conference indoor mile and two-mile champion and won the mile in the Kansas City Athletic Club meet.
He remained a runner after graduating. He won the Oklahoma AAU cross-country in 1945. He broke the U.S. Masters national records for men 70 and over in the two- and three-mile runs in 1973 and bettered the 10,000-meter record in the same age group in 1974.
During many of his years at OU, Keith "ran the section" or farther every day.
He continued to run until a serious Achilles tendon injury reduced him to jogging "only" a mile daily around Owen Field.
"Not very fast," he said. He was preceded in death by his wife, Virginia.
He is survived by a son, John, of Las Cruces, N.M., and a daughter, Kathleen, of Houston, and also four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. BIOG: NAME: UPD:

Excellent piece, George. I didn’t know, or remember, all that about Keith, though I read his memoir.

I worked for Keith too, though rarely in the office. My job in the fall of my freshman year was to accompany one of the photographers covering OU’s home football games and keep notes for him (there were no hers in the press box at the time) .

There was a very rigid process for tracking the game. I was given a form on which to record data for each and every play, so the photographer could have details for his caption for each image and edit efficiently.

As I remember, I had to record: the type of play, the time, the down, the yard line from snap to finish, penalties, and the primary players involved. The form had to match up with the footage. Frankly, it was a rather stressful assignment.

Eloi

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