Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Jaycee Track Meets Have a Rich History
By J.D. Kailer
Never was the adage "what goes around comes around" more evident than it was Jan. 15, when more than 300 track athletes broke in Albuquerque's new indoor track.
It was déjá vu for track fanatics who decades ago witnessed record indoor performances at the Albuquerque Jaycee Meet at Tingley Coliseum.
Tingley Coliseum? Yes, the same. A well-lit structure with comfortable seating, pushed to its limits by capacity-plus crowds of 14,000 fans watching national- and world-class athletes pound the cherry-red 200-meter track with banked curves.
In 1966, though an Amateur Athletic Union administrative error scuttled a scheduled national prime-time telecast, 14,000 fans watched in awe as eight world records went by the boards.
Balancing out the TV mishap was the March 14, 1966 Sports Illustrated cover photo of the University of Tennessee's Richmond Flowers winning the 60-yard high hurdles with the bold caption "Championships at Albuquerque."
Who needed TV?
The Albuquerque Jaycees, sponsors of the indoor meet as well as previous outdoor meets at the University of New Mexico's Zimmerman Field, laid the groundwork: ticket sales, program advertising, correspondence with AAU chiefs, travel arrangements for athletes from Canada and other foreign countries as well as the United States.
Albuquerque's Ken Hansen led the Jaycees' effort. But most of the behind-the-scenes headaches rested on the shoulders of Lobos track coach Hugh Hackett and UNM alumni director Gwinn "Bub" Henry.
"The Jaycees started sponsoring the outdoor track meets in 1959, with UNM as host, at Zimmerman Field," Henry says.
Crowds ranged between 10,000 to 15,000, Henry recalls, as the Lobos' track-and-field prowess increased under Hackett's coaching and recruiting.
Early standouts included local stars Buster Quist (javelin), an Albuquerque High star and a future Lobo; UNM hurdler Dick Howard, a 1960 Olympic bronze medalist; long jumper Ken Medley; and Highland High and Lobos discus thrower R.P. Waters.
Olympic shot put gold medalist Parry O'Brien, pole vault world-record holder Bob Gutowski and Olympic champion sprinter Bobby Morrow also competed in the early Jaycees outdoor meets.
"To gain recognition, we sought out names such as Glenn Cunningham (former NCAA and world-record holder in the mile run) and Brutus Hamilton (University of California coaching legend)," Henry says. "They served as judges for the meets."
Suddenly, track and field, which had been considered a minor sport in the eyes of Albuquerqueans, turned into a breadwinner. Hackett's Lobos teams, featuring NCAA champions Adolph Plummer (440-yard dash), Clarence Robinson (long jump) and Larry Kennedy (discus), won four consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles from 1964-67.
Sandwiched within all this prosperity were three important events:
The 1963 NCAA outdoor track and field championships, hosted by UNM at University Stadium.
Plummer's 440 world record of 44.9 seconds, set at the '63 WAC championships in Tempe, Ariz.
The Lobos' resounding, 93 1/3-46 2/3 victory over college powerhouse Southern California the most lopsided defeat in Trojans history in 1965.
The Jaycee Invitational moved indoors to Tingley Coliseum on Jan. 25, 1964, and was an immediate success through the efforts of Hackett; Henry; Hansen; Fred Matteucci, who spearheaded ticket sales; and engineer (and distance runner) Floyd Highfill, who constructed the oval.
"Hugh (Hackett) was the instigator, and Floyd was the builder," Henry says. "The entire track (176 yards long) was built on the State Fairgrounds, then moved indoors. It was built with high (4 feet) curves to improve times, set world records."
The state-of-the-art track made attracting world-class sprinters a breeze. The list of sprinters and hurdlers alone who graced the Jaycee Meet during the '60s was enough to make track fans stand up and cheer. The group included stars like UNM's Bernie Rivers and Steve Caminiti, Tennessee's Flowers, Albuquerquean Jerry Wright, and Jimmy Hines, who would win an Olympic 100-meter dash gold medal in '68.
While most eyes were focused on the cherry-red oval, veteran track observers were glued to events going on inside the track: the pole vault ('68 Olympic gold medalist Bob Seagren) and the shot put (UNM's Kennedy, '68 Olympic champ and '64 silver medalist and Randy Matson).
Track and field diehards, now completely sold on one of the nation's finest indoor meets, would arrive long before the starting time to seek autographs and watch warm-ups. They would stay late to watch the conclusion of the pole vault or shot put, then rise early Sunday morning to read Albuquerque Journal sports editor LeRoy Bearman's in-depth story and sidebars.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. So it was with the Jaycee meet, which came to an close in the early '80s.
"Rising costs (travel expenses, housing, appearance fees, etc.) proved too much too handle," Henry says. And with the demise of the Jaycee Invitational, Albuquerque lost one of its signature sporting events.
Today, however, the name Henry again graces the sports pages. Matt Henry, son of Bub and Dona Henry and UNM's head track coach, helped inaugurate the city's new $500,000, 200-meter indoor oval with an all-comers meet Jan. 15 at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
One of the competitors was masters pole vaulter Brad Winter, who as an Albuquerque City Councilor spearheaded the city's purchase of the track.