Wednesday, October 18, 2017
V 7 N. 69 R.I.P. Fred Abington (Vanderbilt) and Bill Donakowski (Michigan)
Two deaths to report, Bill Donakowski University of Michigan great and Fred Abington, early SEC national class miler in the 1950s at Vanderbilt. Abington's death as yet is unconfirmed. He had been living in South Africa for many years. Information came to us from an anonymous source.
Here is the piece we posted on Fred several years ago.
"I new Fred in Cape Town, South Africa. He passed away yesterday." Richard Wooding
Track & Field News reported Bill Donakowski's passing today October 18, 2017 at the age of 61.
He was Big Ten cross country champion in 1977.
Another fitting piece to print with the above news is a tribute to a deceased high school cross country coach in Ohio, Gordon Downie, not to be confused with the front man for the Canadian band The Tragicly Hip who passed away last night, October 17, 2017. The Ohio Coach Gordon Downie died in 2015. Many runners can relate to this story through the sentiment he or she might be lucky to have when thinking of that first coach who got you going in your running career. Thanks to Phil Scott for sending this piece to us.
From a Southeastern Ohio journal called The Trib. Not sure of its origin.
Remembering 'Coach': An appreciation of Gordon Downie
by COLIN MCNICKLE Saturday April 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
We laid a great man to rest on Saturday afternoon in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.
“We” were the once-inseparable friends who were teammates on the early and mid 1970s championship cross-country teams at Martins Ferry High School, a hop, skip and, usually, a run across an Ohio River bridge (sometimes, even a train bridge) in the neighboring Buckeye State.
The “great man” was our coach, Gordon Downie, who died at the age of 81.
Too light for football and too short for basketball — and seeking to break out of the nerdy statistician role I had played for the seventh- and eighth-grade basketball teams — I decided in the late summer of 1972 that I would join the cross-country team. Brothers Scott and Kevin had been “harriers” in the 1960s. (Far bigger brother Shannon played football.)
“At least I can run,” I reasoned, recognizing my limited athletic options but not ready to surrender my athletic desires.
All of 14, I presented myself to Coach Downie, all of 38, on the first day of school my freshman year. “So you want to be a cross-country runner,” he said, sizing up the scrawny kid, then just shy of 5-foot-6 and barely 110 pounds, hair approaching his shoulders.
“Cut that hair and you can run faster,” he said with a wink (an observation that would be a running joke for the next four years). “Have you done much running?”
“I've run several laps around our field at my house,” I told him, all puffed up and full of myself.
Coach looked bemused.
“It takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication,” he cautioned, refraining from dismissing my woefully meager preparation while recognizing the hint of rare adolescent initiative.
“Discipline,” he added.
And discipline is what Coach Downie instilled — not through ranting or raving and certainly not through embarrassing anyone.
Over the next four years, there were thousands of miles of long-distance road work (easily more than 15,000 miles for most of us, and that's no exaggeration, and oftentimes morning, and night), “pacing” work at the stadium track and excruciatingly challenging hill work — sprinting up the steepest and longest city street inclines Coach could find, then “striding out” at the top for 100 yards.
And more often than not, Coach Downie was running right with us.
The harder Coach pushed us, the harder we worked. And, by Jove, the “luckier” we got. Those Martins Ferry teams dominated not only Ohio Valley cross-country but the sport in the eastern half of Ohio. Led by Bruce Smith, one of the top runners in the nation in his era, we scored multiple sectional and divisional championships and multiple trips to the state championship meet. Bruce twice was the individual winner (and twice more the champion in the two-mile run in track).
It was that same discipline that laid a great foundation for countless boys to become proper young men and, later, good and decent adults.
“He truly was a mentor and inspiration to me,” teammate Charlie Cunningham wrote on Coach Downie's funeral home tribute page. “He has touched me in many ways during my journey along life's path.”
But as foundational as that discipline was, another teammate, Mike Frazier, reminded me last week of another important lesson from Coach. “Yes, he was a good disciplinarian, motivator and leader,” Mike wrote in a text. “But he also allowed us space and room to grow and to be ourselves.”
Once wrote John Ruskin, one of the leading art critics of the Victorian Era, “Every great man is always being helped by everybody, for his gift is to get good out of all things and all persons.”
Gordon Downie had a great gift for making the best out of every situation and for getting the best out of every athlete he had the privilege to coach.
But Coach, here's a little secret: The privilege really was all ours.
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