Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vol. 3 No. 7 Central State University Cross Country 1960-62

A few months ago we wrote about the 1962 NCAA cross country results and the other national meets of that year, and a name popped out to me in the placings.   That name was +Les Hegedus, who place 7th in the Division I meet representing Central State University of Ohio.   Les,  an American of Hungarian origin ran for a traditionally African American university.   It seemed there was a good story in this, and I sought out Les through the internet to ask him about his running history and maybe more.
                                               (Click on Image to see in a larger format)

Les is modest in talking about his exploits from those days.  He did mention that he might have done better in the NCAA University ( Division I)  race, but it was his third hard race in 9 days.  He first won the US Track and Field Federation 10,000 meters National meet  in Columbus, OH beating the formidable University of Houston runners+ John Macy, +Al Lawrence, Geoff Walker, and Pat Clohhessy.  Then on the way to the College Division race (which he won) the van broke down,  and then they got hopelessly lost near Wheaton, IL and barely made it to the meet on time.   A few days later he ran the University or Division  I meet and got 7th place.   
Above, Les Hegedus winning a cross country meet at Central State

The first time I had seen Les run was in 1958 at the Ohio AAU cross country championships in Dayton, Ohio, my home town.  I was a high school sophomore and had been getting ready to play basketball, but my  coach John Ross decided to have me run one last meet, and I was third in the HS race.   The HS race was followed by an Open 4 mile race that was contested by several colleges including Bowling Green and Central State and the University of Kentucky, led by a runner with a unique name, +Press Whelan.  Also entered was the Cleveland Magyar Club. The Magyars were made up of a bunch of guys of varying ages and mismatched uniforms and all speaking Hungarian to each other.   It must be remembered that in November of 1958, this was just two years after the Hungarian revolution in which thousands of refugees had fled their country after the Russians had come with their army to quell a popular uprising against the Communist government of Hungary.  We assumed the Magyar Club was a contingent of those refugees.  Being quite naive to the sport and looking for tips, I remember approaching those guys and asking them what it would take to run well like they had done that day.  In their limited English, they replied "Practice, practice, practice".  Les Hegedus, a tall blond young man ran well that day and finished 4th in the Open race.  A year later he was wearing a Central State uniform.

Central State was in the NCAA in those days competing in what was then called the  'College Division'.
The big universities competed in the 'University Division'.   Today if you look in NCAA records, those College division teams  are  referred to as Division II or Division III,  the current nomenclature.  'College Division' schools were allowed to grant athletic scholarships.   Since then the nonscholarship Division III has been added.    The NCAA record book on cross country shows that Les was a 4 time All-American in cross country , so 'College Division' freshmen in those days were allowed to run varsity, unlike their 'University Division' counterparts.  Central State it is noted also is the first College Division team to win and repeat as NCAA cross country champions, doing that in 1960 and 1962.  Among the other All-Americans in those days was were Central State teammates +Josh Ruga and +Choice Phillips.  In 1962 William Moore and +Teddy Seymour also joined Les in the All-American listings for Central State.   Moore would be an All-American in 63 and 64 as well.   In that time other runners of note winning the same honors were ++Jim Dupree of Southern Illinois and Ed Winrow of Buffalo State.

I had never met Les Hegedus after that 1958 cross country meet, but I did hear numerous stories about his great running history at Central State.   As the history of those times is what this blog is concerned about, I decided to find Les Hegedus and talk to him about those days.  Central State has had an up and down history of fat years and lean years in track and field.  At one time +Josh Culbreath, the great intermediate hurdler was coaching there, and more recently Josh's son  Jahan Culbreath was the coach.  Jahan was recently named the athletic director at Central State.  +Martin McGrady once ran for Central State and was unbeatable at 500-600 yards on the indoor circuits.  He was known as 'The Chairman of the Boards'.  +Clifton Mayfield, a very good long jumper was also a student at Central State.  Their women's program  produced a number of Olympians out of Jamaica in the 1990's.

Les proved easy to find.   He lives in Westlake, Ohio.   He is a retired music teacher in Cleveland parochial schools, and an  absolutely wonderful person to talk to,  so gracious and humble about his running credentials.

The first thing I wanted to know about Les was how he got to the US from Hungary after the 1956 revolution.  He corrected me on that one.   He said that his grandparents had come to the US in the early 20th century and settled in western Pennsylvania where his grandfather worked in the coal mines.  His mother was born in the US,  but when she was 16 years old, the family decided to return to Hungary.   Les was born in Hungary in 1937 and lived there through WWII.  Because his mother was a US citizen they were able to emigrate back to the US in 1949,  well before the 1956 revolution.  His father was not able to come with them immediately, but eventually did reunite with the family in Cleveland.  So Les arrived here as a twelve year old not speaking English and set about going to school with American kids, learning the language, and working to support his family.   He had worked in a gas station, a potato chip factory and several stores.  But in those days his passion was playing the accordion.  On his thirteenth birthday , he and his mother were walking past a music store, and she asked him what instrument he might want to learn.  Amongst all those shiny instruments he  chose the accordion. Les confided that maybe he had an ancestor who was a muscian, because in Hungarian his name 'Hegedus" means 'Violinist".   With all his work and learning the accordion,  he never ran track or cross country while attending West Tech HS in Cleveland where he graduated in 1956.   It is only after he graduated and  was working, that he met some of the Hungarian runners in the Cleveland area and joined their club.  One of the members of the club was +Julius Penzes, who had run the 6th fastest time in the world at 10,000 meters back in 1953.   Julius did a lot of the coaching then and still ran, but no longer at the international level he had registered in '53.   I've since learned that Penzes had been coached to some extent by +Mihaly Igloi when they were both still in Hungary.  Penzes is still alive and living in Oregon which is another story I intend to pursue at a later date.

Julius Penzes and Istvan Rozavolgyi  1959

                                                                   The 1962 national champions

+Dave Youngblade was a graduate student at Central State and had been assigned the coaching duties by Country Lewis, the long time A.D. at CSU.   Youngblade all but offered Hegedus a scholarship on the spot at the AAU meet in Dayton that November.  According to Les,  he had never considered going to college.  He was already two years out of high school and working several jobs.  But his parents encouraged him to continue his education.   So Les took his accordion to Central State and became a music major and a distance runner.

In an interview with Dave Youngblade who lives now in Saginaw, Michigan recalled that he had been attending Central State and coached two years as an undergraduate.  When he got his degree, he was offered $5,000 to go to Indiana University as an assistant.  When Central State heard that, they offered him $4,000 to stay.  His last year of coaching was the 1966-67 season after which he moved to Michigan and worked in the field of public education.    The track teams were very strong then, and on one occasion they beat Bowling Green State U.  113-14 in 1962.   As mentioned earlier ,  freshmen were eligible to run in the College Division.   When CSU showed up to run at Ohio University in the  OU Relays,  a venerable Big Ten coach, whose school will not be named, but are sometimes referred to as that school up north by Ohioans, went up to the meet director and told him that if CSU ran any freshmen in the relays, the Big Ten team was going home.  CSU agree not to run their freshmen and still beat the Big Ten team.  To this day Dave Youngblade still roots for the team up north to lose.    Dave also  firmly believes that segregation made CSU stronger, because few if any scholarships were being offered to African American athletes by the big schools in the late fifties,  therefore the traditionally black colleges and universities were getting the pick of the best black athletes.

Among Les' memorable races recounted to me by another of our readers, at the Ohio AAU track and field championships in 1962 or 63,  Les and Andy Schramm of Miami of Ohio went head to head in a 3 mile race with Les edging Schram at the tape.  Fifteen yards behind them was Billy Mills running for the Quantico Marines.

Les continued to run road races into his mid forties and had a 4:29 mile and 31:29 10,000 meters when he was 44 years old.   He taught music at St. Dominic's School in Shaker Heights, OH and St. Cyril's  in Lakewood.  He has retired from teaching   He is 75 years old at the time of this writing and stays active doing hill walking in the parks near where he lives and plays music regularly in a band.

       Teaching 2002

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