Friday, June 28, 2013

Vol. 3 No. 39 Thomas Coyne Memories of the Chicago Distance Running Scene 1940s- 1970's

Over the past few weeks (June, 2013) I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking via email with Thomas Coyne.  The following from Tom will tell you more about him than I can ever hope to convey in a few lines.  We've crossed paths in our lives once or twice without ever knowing it.  I think we could have been good neighbors or running club mates.  Tom's memories of growing up in Chicago and running for a legendary coach  Ralph Mailliard at St. Ignatius HS and then with Ted Haydon at the University of Chicago Track Club will be of interest to many of our readers.  Tom Coyne also reminded me that  June 1 , 2013 was the 50th anniversary of Tom O'Hara's running the first 4 minute mile in the state of Michigan. the time on cinders was 3:58.8 at Western Michigan's Waldo Stadium.  That record lasted for decades.  ed.

Thomas Coyne, a Brief Biography
Attended then Western Michigan College from 1951-55  first running for Coach Clayton Maus and then for George Dales when he arrived to begin  his long and illustrious career.
Returned to Western Michigan University in 1962 and retired in 1992 after having served as Alumni Relations Director, Assistant to the President and, for the last twenty years, as Vice President for Student Services.

I've been a club runner all my life and, like many, have gotten more out of the sport than I have given back.  I do, however, take pride in the fact that in the beginning days of the Road Runners Club of America I served as Editor (a volunteer like all the other folks) of the club's quarterly newsletter, Footnotes, from 1967 to 1978.  I was also one of the founders of the Mall City Pacers which has evolved into the Kalamazoo Area Runners, the largest running club in Michigan.

Most of all, I have had a lot of fun and met a great many very fine people while participating in what is surely the oldest of all sports.

Take care,


Dear George:

Here is the article I mentioned to you.

I wrote the vast bulk of it back in 1981 but, partly because I should have included the Shorter/Cusack bit then and partly because you say your readers look for familiar names, I have added that story.

I double checked 1972's AAU National Cross Country Championship to be sure my memory was correct.  I'm really pleased to say I had remembered it even better than I realized.

If this would be useful to you, go ahead and use it.

Take care,


(This article was written in 1981 and holds a lot of memories)

Warm summer days, effortless miles, family gatherings at track meets and the paternalistic prodding of coaches like Ralph Malliard of St. Ignatius High School and the inimitable Ted Haydon of the University of Chicago Track Club.  This is what I remember most about my early days of running in the Chicago area during the late 40’s and 50’s and even into the 70’s.  It wasn’t all like that, of course, but a selective memory is often of more help to a runner than a good pair of waffle treads (before we learned of their defects).  Nonetheless, there is a glow about those days that lingers in the mind to gladden my heart like the welcome smile of an old friend.

To locate events for the reader I must tell you I lived on 147th Street, two miles west of Midlothian, Illinois, a small town about 35 miles south of Chicago.  However, I went to St. Ignatius High School on 12th Street in Chicago and most of my races were in and about the University of Chicago on 55th Street or on the lake front.

My first running was at St. Ignatius.  I didn’t originally “go out” for the track team, having had visions of glory as a football star instead, so I struggled through my freshman season collecting splinters on the bench.  However, a combination of my weight (115 lbs.) and a good performance in an intra-mural track meet easily persuaded Kevin Donlon, Freshman Football Coach, that my future, such as it was, lay on the cinder circuit.  He eagerly turned me over to Head Football and  Track Coach Ralph J. “Mal” Malliard.

Two weeks before the end of the school year and the Catholic League Finals, I started training.  Round and round the Quonset hut gym we’d circle singing “Sioux City Sue” to set the tempo.  Our typical training routine had us running in a long congo line with the last runner in line sprinting forward to take the lead at the conclusion of each two or three laps.  On good days we would travel by street car to Rockne Stadium on Chicago’s South Side to use the outdoor track there.

In the late 40’s it was felt high school freshmen and sophomores couldn’t stand the rigors of running a full mile so we only went three quarters in the Finals.  At the starting line in Rockne Stadium that morning I felt excited but relaxed and easy (lack of knowledge is a wonderful thing).   By the conclusion of my first real race, my lungs burning and gasping for air, I had finished 5th out of about 40 runners.  I was out of the money, but a lot smarter about foot racing.  I had never tried anything so hard…..nor did I want to again.
Coach Maillard
Then Mal, a rough-visaged giant, wrapped an arm around me and walked me across the infield with that pigeon-toed John Wayne style of his.  He congratulated me on my race, told me I would have won if I had had more time to train and said he was proud of me.  I was hooked.  In all the years I ran for Mal he never gave up on me although I rarely ran up to his expectations.  He was father figure, tyrant and masculine power at its gentlest, strongest, best;  a helluva of an idol for a young boy trying to become a man.

Ted Haydon, however, was the pivot around which the Chicago running scene moved.  There were other men who promoted runs; Bob Craib, a transplanted Bay Stater, local AAU honcho Marvin Thomas and the Rosses, father and son, of the Lane Tech Green and Gold A.C; but Ted, with his white hair, ruddy complexion, gently joshing style and the ability to hold more stop watches simultaneously than any known human, was the key figure through the 50’s and 60’s.  He was Athletic Director and track coach at the University of Chicago, but in founding the University of Chicago Track Club he opened running opportunities for runners throughout the Chicago area.

Runners were few in those days, particularly compared to the herds on today’s roads, but those there were seemed to drift in and out of the UCTC scene, like proverbial moths.   Ted hosted a series of Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon track meets.  At U of C’s Stagg Field great runners like Olympian steeplechasers Phil Coleman and Charles “Deacon” Jones, Olympic 1500 meter runner Warren Drutzler, Gar Williams, later to be a National AAU Marathon Champion, Big Ten Champions Lawton Lamb, Alan Carius and Walter Deike matched strides with each other and also with the rankest of beginners.  Hal Higdon, whose glory days have been as a Masters runner, was also a prominent figure.  Later, as the years went on, other outstanding runners like Rick Woldhuter, Lowell Paul and Tom O’Hara ran for the UCTC, but that was another era the runners of the 50’s hardly hoped to see.

One thing we weren’t in those days was “joggers”, although I’m amazed at how little we really seemed to know about effective training methods.  When miler Lawton Lamb returned from a trip to England running repeat quarters he introduced a whole new element of serious training and helped create an increasingly more proficient group of trackmen.  Randy Hoffman, another veteran of the Chicago scene, remembers Gar Williams running 45 quarters in a workout and astounding the troops.

We, less talented, runners were prone to copy the training methods and even running styles of the better athletes.  After running in the 1951 “Bud” Billiken 15K road race through Washington and Jackson Parks and seeing diminutive black marathoner, Lou White, speed away from the field with his short shuffling stride I copied White’s form. 
Lou White finishing 3rd at Boston in 1949
2 hrs. 36 min.
I worked at it for weeks and was only mildly discouraged when, during one of my training runs at the Midlothian Country Club near my home, Bill Shea, my Ignatius High buddy and our X-C team manager, came out of his house to ask if I had injured myself.  I finally gave up the experiment four miles into the first race I attempted with the “new” me.  The next four miles of that eight miler seemed like a breeze.

Other running styles also attracted attention.  Hal Higdon was just then getting into steeplechasing.  Now Hal has tight, efficient road racing form, but going over a steeplechase barrier he would shave it so close the spectators flinched.  Even Haydon used to get nervous.

Much of our running was on the track.  The Chicago AAU used to hold a big summer track meet at Rockne Stadium on Roosevelt Road.  There would be a laundry list of events so runners would bring their families and spread blankets on the infield.  Wives and girlfriends would visit (women runners, if there were any, were limited to the occasional teenager running sprints); babies would sleep in the sun, toddlers would toddle and running fathers would alternate running in as many events as they could with returning to flop down on the blankets and join again in the gossip and banter.

There were relatively few road races and even those took place more on park paths than the open roads.  Washington Park on 55th Street was the site of many local cross country runs and even collegiate and national championships.   It was on the Washington Park course I once saw Houston stars Al Lawrence and John Macy duel each other in a Central Collegiate Conference Championship and realized for the first time what really good running was.  Dry, the Park was a flat, fast grass course including a brief stretch of cinder bridle path.  In snow or rain it was one long quagmire.

One snowy fall both the Big Ten and the Central Collegiate Cross Country Championships were held in the Park.  The Big Ten ran first and at the conclusion of their race the course was a mud field.  As the Central Collegiate race got underway midst mud and cinders one runner went by running barefoot.  The great Iowa runner and Olympian, Ted Wheeler, relaxing after his race, couldn’t believe it and I overheard him comment wryly, “You can always get a new pair of shoes.  Where will you get a new pair of feet?”

It was also in Washington Park on November 25, 1972 that I was an eyewitness to one of the most bizarre finishes ever to a National AAU Cross Country Championship. 

The last half mile or so of the 10 K course at Washington Park consisted of a run down one side of a large open field, a turn around a course marker and a long stretch run back to the finish line.  I was crossing the lower section of the field, well behind the lead runners, when I saw to my right Neil Cusack, from Ireland and now a junior at East Tennessee State, running down the left side of the field with a good 80 to 100 yard lead over Frank Shorter.  Cusack, who had won the NCAA cross country title the previous week, was motoring along and Shorter was moving smoothly and relaxed and clearly running for second place.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, in mid-field, Cusack cut the course short, ran to his left and left again back up to the finish line.  Even from a distance I could see the surprise on Shorter’s face as he turned to stare at Cusack.  Shorter stayed on course, made the turn and finished in what would have been second place.

The hullabaloo was still going on in Bartlett Gym when I was done running and had made my way there.  Cusack clearly deserved to be disqualified but because he had finished so far ahead his coach was trying to say it shouldn’t make a difference.   Ted Haydon even asked Shorter’s coach, “What does Frank want?”   Frank told Ted, “If I had cut as much as Cusack, I would have disqualified myself.”  In a decision, for which the rationale  is known only to God and Ted Haydon, Ted dropped Cusack to fourth place and Frank won his third straight National AAU cross country title.

It gets cold in Chicago and especially so on the lake front.  Another favorite running site, Waveland Golf Course on North Lake Shore Drive, with the breeze blowing off Lake Michigan was a pleasant spot to run cross country in the fall.  Towards winter that lake wind frequently carried snow.  In one AAU cross country race a runner named Lynch from the University of Illinois was the winner, but the officials had to scrape the snow off him to determine who he was.

Not everyone was affected by the cold apparently.  As I stood shivering at the starting line at Waveland G. C. one bitter cold morning, I was stunned to see Leo Dick, a legendary runner in the early Chicago days, walking around in shorts and singlet, seemingly oblivious to the temperature.  Leo was as calm as on a spring day, while the rest of us turned to icicles.

The hot weather got to runners too.  In one very humid, May, Sunday afternoon meet at Stagg Field, slim, blond, crew cut Gar Williams was running away from the field in a six miler, as was his usual style, when he started to weave on the track, hitting the concrete curb.  Haydon immediately stepped in, stopped Gar and led him to the shade beneath the stands.  For over half an hour we walked Gar back and forth while he babbled on about the White Sox in some baseball game.  I never did find out who the Sox were playing and Gar finally snapped out of it, but it was scary for a while.

Perhaps the less said about the road racing we did the better.  There was a certain laissez-faire attitude about it all that would make some current day purists shudder.  One favorite road race site was along the lake front with a turnaround point at La Rabida Sanitarium near Jackson Park.  We used that course one summer in the late 50’s for a National AAU 15K Championship.  The star of the occasion was a New York import, Peter McArdle, late of Ireland.  As the son of Irish immigrants, I was thrilled to share a locker in U of C’s Bartlett Gym with this great Irish runner, a true international competitor.  Peter, on the other hand, may not have shared this pleasure especially since I started name dropping by asking his opinion on how well local Irish runners, like Willie Morris in County Galway, would do against U.S. competition.  McArdle must have thought I was nuts.  He was undoubtedly dumbfounded to learn anyone five miles outside of County Galway had even heard of Willie Morris.  I vaguely remember telling him my father occasionally received a Galway newspaper when the conversation was mercifully cut short by the announcement a van would take any interested runner over the course.  Alas, that trip didn’t help Peter any more than did the news about Willie.

When the gun sounded and the pack headed off down South Lake Shore Drive McArdle rapidly took the lead following an injured Gar Williams on a bicycle, whom Haydon had dragooned into service as a poor man’s pace car.  Well, it seems Gar had a bit of bike trouble and rather than wait for the rest of us to catch up, Peter decided to be his own pacer.  He was well off-course down Jeffery Boulevard before he was missed and mad as a tinker in a rainstorm when I next saw him back at the gym.  However, his anger at the race preparations and at losing one of the few AAU Championships he missed in those days subsided and he returned to the U of C a few years later to compete in the U.S.A. vs Poland track meet.

I like to brag about having been running long before the boom began.  I’ve been reminded that I have been running in five decades, the 40’s into the 80’s.  However, when I think of old time runners like Leo Dick (who ran against Venske and Fenske) and Dick King, both of whom are still active competitors, I feel like a freshman.  Both Leo and Dick seemed old in the late 40’s, but time has stood still for them.  They weren’t fast then and they aren’t now, but they are steady.  More importantly, they come to run.

Once in the mid-60’s a violent rainstorm in my now hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan caused us to cancel a local road race here.  I was relaxing at home after having contacted seemingly everyone, when Dick King called me from the train station.  I drove down to explain to Dick, a little man with his running gear in a brown paper shopping bag, that the race had been cancelled.  Dick, reluctant to have his trip go for naught, asked if there were any other scheduled races in the area.  The only one I knew of was a 15 miler in Cleveland the following morning.  Dick found out he could take the train to Detroit and a bus to Cleveland in time to make the starting line.  I cashed a check for him and he was off.  I learned later Dick arrived at the starting line in a cab just as the race started.  He changed quickly in the back of the cab and followed after.  Not a winner, perhaps, but always a competitor.

Not all of the great-hearted ones have survived, however.  A familiar figure in the UCTC days was an awkward, lanky, gentle guy with great love for running named Arnie Richards.  Arnie was a classic example of someone with not a great deal of natural talent, becoming a good competitor by dint of hard work, perseverance and miles and miles of running.  He ran for years on into the Masters Class.  As a librarian at Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, he was a mainstay of their local club as he had been in Chicago before.  Arnie had a wide circle of running friends and few gave as much to the sport as he did.  However, one day in 1979, perhaps more tired from some recent ultra-marathoning than he realized, Arnie went out for a work-out from which he didn’t return.   He had a gentle heart, but it gave out on him.
Stagg Field in Football Season
In memory, the 50’s seem like such a relaxed time, yet I know there were fiercely contested races and lonely miles of training.  Randy Hoffman, for example, remembers for three year taking long runs from Chicago Heights to Frankfort, Illinois and return while never seeing another runner.  The meets and road races served to draw us together in competition and fellowship.  Stagg Field, perhaps the finest track I have ever run on, oval shaped and clay surfaced, is long gone.  The University of Chicago in a gesture worthy of former President Robert Maynard Hutchins, built a library on it.  A Henry Moore sculpture marks the spot where Enrico Fermi and his colleagues produced the world’s first nuclear chain reaction under a section of the stands. 
Stagg Field 1963  Jim Beatty pulls away from
Cary Wiesiger and Witold Baran in the USA  Poland Dual Meet
Henry Moore's Statue to Nuclear Energy at the Site of Old Stagg Field

The Chicago area is even greater running country now.  Its annual marathon is a far cry from the first Windy City Marathon won by Orville Atkins in the late 50’s in a looping, out and back, course along South Lake Shore drive over a handful of rivals.  The races are better organized now with huge fields compared to the small band of regulars who were competing when I started.  But, I met fine runners then…..good people.  Best of all, most of them are still running.   I hope their memories are as pleasant as mine.

Tom Coyne

Ralph `Mal` Mailliard, Ex-coach At St. Ignatius

May 11, 1990|By Kenan Heise.
Ralph ``Mal`` Mailliard, 84, longtime football and track coach at St. Ignatius College Prep, was an All-American football player and a member of the 1929 Chicago Bears. He was also a history teacher at St. Ignatius and at De Paul University.
A resident since 1975 of Omaha, he died there Wednesday after a long battle with Parkinson`s disease.
St. Ignatius` track facilities have been named in his honor. For many years, he had to take his teams 12 miles each day to a field where they could practice. Nevertheless, he developed some of the top high school track teams and runners in the country, including world record miler Tom O`Hara. His track team won 20 straight Catholic League championships.

He once expressed his philosophy for coaching track: ``Never cut a boy from the squad. He may develop into a champion. . . . ``
His 1945 football team that battled Fenwick High School to a scoreless tie but lost the coin flip for a Prep Bowl bid.
Mr. Mailliard starred at Creighton University in Omaha in 1926, 1927 and 1928. He was a member of the All-Missouri Conference All-Star team and was picked on Walter Camp`s and Walter Eckersall`s All-America teams.
He earned a doctorate in history at Loyola University and in 1946 joined the faculty of De Paul University. Meanwhile, he continued to coach St. Ignatius football until 1958 and track until 1975.
Survivors include his wife, Margaret; a son, Dennis; and three grandchildren.
Mass for Mr. Mailliard will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. John`s Chapel of Creighton University.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have pictures of UCTC activities dating 1955 -1968. I would like to share them.

My email is

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