From almost the moment of setting foot on campus we knew things would go badly. Our long trip in the college station wagons ended abruptly at our destination. Then with cars parked, the team walked beneath the great ‘Rattlers’ stadium entrance to be greeted by a half dozen trackmen interrupting their workout to check us out. With Florida A &M University on our spring schedule in 1969 we now accepted our place as lambs taken to our kill.
The previous year, all members of the FAMU 440yd relay team had been drafted to the National Football League and little reason to doubt their replacements would be any less talented. When now first entering the stadium the FAMU team spokesman was a giant man wearing granny glasses holding a shot put and while talking, juggled the 16 pound ball between hands by simply snapping his wrists to send the globe 2′ up with each flip. His gaze scanned our faces, smiling as he talked. I’d no doubt he and his team would enjoy every moment of tearing us apart piece by piece in the morning.
With the exception of Puerto Rican 880yd runner Danny Pacheco, we were an all white team going against an all black team, a fact was not lost to either. In the 2012 book ‘Decade of Surprises’, written by coach Larry Arrington he states …’Roanoke probably should not have had Florida A & M on their schedule’. It was a time of great discontent. We were just a few days away from the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin L. King. The Vietnam war was inflicting some of it’s worst bloodshed. At FAMU we were told not venture out on campus alone before the meet. From ‘Decade of Surprises’: The 1964 Civil Rights Act had not been fully accepted and of the road trip through the rural south, “For most of us, it was the first time we had seen things like segregated bathrooms”, Steve Keltner, pole vaulter.
“The day before we arrived we were told a student had been killed in the cafeteria followed by rioting and we encountered a campus quelled earlier by National Guard troops. Fires had been set in the dormitory where we stayed and the sole surviving pay phone in the building had an armed guard by it. We were escorted to the dining room by campus security and the meals had to be eaten entirely with spoons in as much as forks and knives had been removed.” … Ian Williams, 220yd & 440yd runner. “I remember our training meal was liver and onions and as we went through the cafeteria line, they gave us spoons and forks but no knives. Coach Bast was with us and passed money to us under the tables so we could go out and buy some decent food”, Charles Schlotthober, 120yd & 440yd hurdler. From a letter written to my parents while there… “The kids on the team are really disgusted about being here and don’t like being around negroes, saying the place even smells like ‘n- – -ers’. They keep making jokes about being attacked by the black javelin throwers.”
The meet was March 26, 1969, cloudy, cool with a wind up to 25mph and as expected we were totally destroyed. FAMU, 108 pts to Roanoke College with 37pts. Each event is documented in detail in Larry Arrington’s book. In the announcing booth above the stadium a woman at the microphone called the events. She left the mic open the entire meet so all conversation with her company of friends was being broadcast across the stadium resulting in her personal stuff, her weekend plans, digs at the Roanoke team, etc., heard by all. Amazing! I scored no points in the mile or two mile but ended up with 3rd place in the javelin. At that stage of my college running career I had shin splints so bad it was ridiculous to run… but run I did even if for nothing.
One memory stands out maybe most from all others of that meet when an older black man wearing a fedora hat, maybe a former head or assistant coach or such for FAMU, came over to me.
“You’ve got shin splints I see”, he said , staring at both my tightly wrapped ankles in tan ACE bandages, me looking like a race horse that I certainly wasn’t.
We talked of my frustration and he was very understanding, telling me of some exercises and therapy he said worked for some of the athletes he’d trained. I thanked him for his advise and concern. Then, he walked away to be with his team. That was really special to an 18 year old white kid from Connecticut.
Part of the 1969 track team, me with shades.
‘Decade of Surprises’ documenting every track and cross-country meet 1960-70 at Roanoke College, Salem ,VA.
A selfie of me at the ‘Rattlers’ stadium when on a biz trip to Tallahassee.
A crowded field for the Raptor 2 mile on March 3, 2012 caused an unfortunate fall by Art Anderson who went to the ground with an injury more common to cyclists than runners. It may be several weeks before he rejoins his friends for training and racing. We wanted Art to know we’ll miss him during his recovery so here for all to enjoy memories is a video ‘Get Well Card’.
A memory from the 2010 Battle of the Bridges sprint triathlon began when crossing paths with Art before the east turnaround of the run course. Being in different age groups I was bold enough to challenge him with the words,”come catch me” as we passed going in opposite directions. The suggestion may have added to his motivation. I came down the short hill and turning for the finish line, saw Art charging from behind. My wife Susan captured this moment as he was about to beat me by 2 seconds!
Eye Of The Dragon Condensation on the inside of the GoPro lens port caused an unintended ethereal, mystical view of runners in this Florida State 10K Championship.