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Saturday’s meet the biggest at ACU in 55 years

By on April 9, 2015 in Alumni News, Campus News, Sports with 0 Comments
A stand-room-only Elmer Gray Stadium crowd in 1960 watched Earl Young and the Wildcats battle Michigan, Ohio State and Texas.

A standing-room-only Elmer Gray Stadium crowd in 1960 watched Earl Young and the Wildcats battle Michigan, Ohio State and Texas.

The most high-powered meet in 55 years – featuring three full NCAA Division I teams – will christen Abilene Christian University’s new Elmer Gray Stadium this Saturday, harkening memories of ACU’s longtime history near the epicenter of the track and field world.

Competition Saturday in the second annual Wes Kittley Invitational between teams from ACU, Texas Tech University and Texas Christian University will begin with field events at 11:30 a.m. and running events at 4:30 p.m. Kittley (’81) is the head coach of the Red Raiders whose ACU teams won 29 NCAA Division II national team titles from 1985-99. He was Big 12 Conference Men’s Coach of the Year in 2014.

Old Gray Stadium’s ground was especially hallowed March 26, 1960, when an overflow crowd packed the stands to watch the Wildcats finish second to teams from the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Roberts chronicled ACU sports events as SID from 1973-98.

Roberts chronicled ACU sports events as SID from 1973-98.

Former longtime sports information director Garner Roberts (’70) ranks the event No. 2 among the top meets ever held at the original Gray Stadium, which is nearing the completion of demolition a few meters northeast of its new home.

Roberts summarizes the 1960 quadrangular meet in a recent post on acusports.com:

“Four Olympians were featured in this early-season outdoor competition before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 6,000 fans. The Wolverines of the University of Michigan, fresh off their victory in the Big 10 indoor championships, came to 65-degree Abilene from 9-degree Ann Arbor to upset the favored Longhorns from University of Texas, defending Southwest Conference champion who had already won the 1960 Border Olympics and San Angelo Relays. Michigan scored 61 points to 51.5 for ACC, 39 for Texas and 22.5 for the Buckeyes of Ohio State, competing without its two fine high jumpers who were at the U.S. Olympic trials with OSU’s NCAA championship basketball team. The four coaches are future Hall of Fame selections by the coaches association – Oliver Jackson of ACC, Clyde Littlefield of Texas, Larry Snyder of Ohio State and Don Canham of Michigan.

Jackson coached Morrow and Wildcat relay teams that set world records as collegians.

Jackson coached Morrow and Wildcat relay teams that set world records as collegians.

The Wildcats won both relays (40.7 and 3:13.5) anchored by Earl Young, and Jackson’s team also got wins from Frank Taylor in the 440 (49.0), Calvin Cooley in the 220 hurdles (22.5) and Thomas O’Neal in the two-mile (9:38.0). Longhorn Olympian Eddie Southern (47.1) defeated world 440 record holder Glenn Davis (47.4) in a special 440 with ACC’s Bobby Morrow (48.3) third, and Jimmy Weaver (10.4) upset ACC’s Bill Woodhouse (second) and Southern (third) in a special 100 meters. Michigan’s fine sprinter Tom Robinson won both dashes (9.6 and 20.9) in the scored collegiate meet, and Olympian Bill Neider threw 63-7.5 to challenge his world record of 63-10 in the shot put set one week earlier in Palo Alto, Calif.  Texas failed to win a running event in a meet for the first time in more than 10 years.

The Abilene Reporter-News wrote, ‘The crowd was probably the biggest in the history for a track and field meet here. The stands on both sides were filled, and several hundred more were filed around the outside fences and looking from atop buses and automobiles at the grand collection of athletes.’

The Michigan coach told reporters, ‘This was the greatest first performance outdoors for us. I have no complaints. It was a terrific meet.’ ”

Bill McClure succeeded Oliver Jackson as Wildcat head coach, carrying on the tradition of record-setting performances in track and field.

Bill McClure succeeded Oliver Jackson as Wildcat head coach, carrying on the tradition of record-setting performances in track and field.

The head coaches that day were on their way to becoming legends in the amateur/collegiate sports world.

Wildcat collegians coached by Jackson (’42) set or tied 15 world records and won four Olympic gold medals, and he was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Canham later championed collegiate sports marketing as one of the longest-tenured athletics directors in Michigan history (1968-88), preceding head football coach Bo Schembechler. The annual Texas Relays in Austin are now named for Littlefield, who was Longhorn head track and field coach for 41 years, and head football coach for six seasons. Snyder coached the Buckeyes from 1932-65 and among his top athletes was the great Jesse Owens. He also was assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic team in 1952 and head coach in 1960.

The No. 1 Gray Stadium event on Roberts’ list, by the way, took place the same year when it was the venue July 15-16 for the 1960 U.S. Olympic trials for women in track and field. Among participants was 20-year-old sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who went on to win three gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400-meter relays at the Games in Toyko that fall.

Those were the same events in which Morrow (’58) won gold medals four years earlier for the U.S. men’s team in Melbourne, Australia.

TCU and Texas Tech will be preparing Saturday for next month’s Big 12 Outdoor Championships, and ACU for the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships. Texas Tech has already broken 20 of its school records during 2015 competition and TCU is known for its top sprinters and relay teams. Western Texas College and South Plains College also will enter student-athletes in Saturday’s meet.

Billy Olson practiced and competed at old Gray Stadium while preparing for the 1980 Olympics and record-setting performances in the pole vault.

Billy Olson (’81) practiced and competed at old Gray Stadium while preparing for the 1980 Olympics and record-setting pole vault performances around the world.

Albert Lawrence (’85), a standout sprinter for the Wildcats, won an Olympic silver medal while competing for his native Jamaica.

Albert Lawrence (’85), a standout sprinter for the Wildcats, won an Olympic silver medal while competing for his native Jamaica.

Tim Bright (’_-) was a three-time U.S. Olympian in the decathlon and pole vault.

Tim Bright (’83) was a three-time U.S. Olympian in the decathlon and pole vault.

Delloreen Ennis (’99) was a three-time Olympian 100-meter hurdler for Jamaica who finished fourth in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Delloreen Ennis (’99) was a three-time Olympian 100-meter hurdler for Jamaica who finished fourth in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

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