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Great track characters you've known?


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  • Great track characters you've known?

    Track draws eccentric and remarkable individuals. Which ones made the greatest impressions or generated the most stories in your experience?

    One of my old coaches four decades ago, John Ward, was a legend in his own time. My first year at Santa Ana JC back in the 1960's was his last year coaching. The program was a dynasty then, always in contention for CA state championships. Two guys from that team made the US National team that year - Ed Caruthers, who would later be an OG silver medalist, and Fred Kuller, who would later become a WR relay runner.

    But the guts of the team and Coach Ward's specialty was middle-distance running. We had a half-dozen guys under 1:55 at 880 yds. Ward was a hard-nosed guy, a fraternity brother of John Wayne and Ward Bond and remained close friends to both, he'd been a boxing instructor in the army during WWII, and his idea of middle-distance training was lots and lots of fast interval work with not so much recovery time. Coach believed that a workout was a failure unless one or more people barfed. He'd just watch the vomit fly while he puffed on the ragged hand-rolled cigarette that always drooped from his mouth and ask if the barfer was done, then tell him to drink some water and jump back into the next interval repeat.

    Coach Ward didn't talk much, but after most workouts he'd share a huge repetoire of grossly politically incorrect, off-color jokes. Amazingly, I once sat next to him in a van on the way to a meet and he asked me to hold the steering wheel on the freeway while he rolled and lit a Bull Durham smoke with the windows open at 65 miles an hour.

    And he was an action guy. There was a resevoir near where he lived where he often went fishing. Some idiot had dropped a pet alligator into the water at some point which eventually grew large enough to scare people and created a local Orange County furor about how to humanely catch and dispose of the critter. As biologists studied the problem and strategies were devised and time dragged on, Coach Ward got tired of the whole affair so one day he took his shotgun out on his little aluminum boat and put an end to the hand-wringing by blasting it to reptilian heaven!!!

    What a guy!!! I'd say he was one of a kind, except I knew a couple of other old school coaches cut from the same general mold.

  • #2
    Nice story Joe! Took me back to the old days. My JC coach was quite the opposite of John Ward...Tom Tellez at Fullerton JC...classy guy as well as a great coach.

    But Tom Noon at Tustin H.S. He was more like John Ward...right?!


    • #3
      You know the answer to that!


      • #4
        double entry. Nevermind!


        • #5
          Tellez was a great technical coach and, you are right, the exact opposite of John Ward's personality. I ran into Coach Tellez at the NCAA finals two years ago, made myself a nuisance by speaking to him and he did a very cordial job of acting like he remembered me! A class gentleman.


          • #6
            Yes, Tellez was great with staying on the cutting edge of technology...if you talked high jumping with him you know what I mean. But he's expert on everything from field events, sprinting , hurdling, distance running.

            But the best thing about Coach Tellez was his tact...he could tell you to "shape up or ship out" (when you needed an attitude adjustment or whatever) in such a way that you felt like taking him to dinner afterwards!


            • #7
              In Character

              Brooks Johnson. He was at once frank, humorous, visionary and caring. Prob. still is.


              • #8
                Re: In Character

                Originally posted by bijanc
                Brooks Johnson. He was at once frank, humorous, visionary and caring. Prob. still is.
                I love one of his quotes when describing the competitors of a race: "You have the contenders, the pretenders, and the rear-enders."


                • #9

                  Brooks is a real "sports model", to borrow a phrase I think I heard a Southern American use once. He was the AD of the school I attended from 4th-8th grade. Instituted a novel program to bring in boys who would have otherwise been very unlikely to have been able to attend.