During my senior year in high school I was approached by coaches from Baylor, Southern Methodist, University of Texas, and Howard Payne who expressed an interest in awarding me a track scholarship. U. T. and S.M.U. really showed very little interest after I finished fifth in the mile run in the largest schools’ division at the state track meet. I never really followed up on Howard Payne because I wanted to go to Baylor anyway.
Jack Wilson was the only track coach that Baylor had at the time. Wilson was a big time hero of Baylor football from years back and had limited interest in track. Sometimes while the track team worked out he would hit golf balls on the football field. In any event, he offered me a half scholarship (tuition and books) for which I was very grateful. I lived at home and drove my 1939 Ford (a quart of gas and a gallon of oil) back and forth to campus.
I was really gung ho on track as were many people at the time. Part of this resulted from seeing Roger Bannister break the four minute mile on this very new box called television. TV was black and white and very snowy, but it truly was a major communication breakthrough at that time.
To return to my track story—basically, I worked out five days a week in the afternoon. I had good training from my high school coach so I knew how to train with no coaching. In those days there was no cross country so I was on my own.
I pushed myself hard, but I did take some time to goof off. The baseball field was across a narrow road from the track so I walked over one day when there was an informal batting practice taking place. John Gilliam was pitching and Jackie Davis (who later had a “cup of coffee” at the major league level) was batting. Thought I was a pretty good third baseman so I got a glove and took third base. After a couple of pitches Jackie hit a screaming line drive up the middle that hit Gilliam with a mighty thud. Fortunately, Gilliam was not hurt, but continued to pitch. I think that was a warning from above that I should go back to the track, but I did not heed it!
A couple of pitches later Davis drove a screamer even harder right straight at me. It quick froze me and I was barely able to get out of the way—much less reach for it.
I laid my glove on the third base bag and thus ended my baseball career—forever. I enjoy watching baseball because I know a little something of the skill and courage it takes to play the game!
While diverted myself, I will tell this story.
Baylor in 1954 1955, etc. had many athletes and other students who were older. Many had returned from Korea and were in school on the G. I. Bill. Some were very experienced in the ways of the world and would probably qualify as “thugs”.
In fact, there were two or three guys kicked off the football team and out of school for various misdeeds.
It was against this backdrop that I had a threat from a football lineman named Fred. At 230 lb. (a giant in those days) and probably 25 years old, Fred was a terror on the football field. While football was having spring practice, they shared the locker room with the track team.
Young, dumb charley (about 150 lbs.) thought nothing about grabbing an open locker for his own use. There were no locks on the lockers in those days, because (believe it or not) theft was extremely rare.
I came in from track practice one day and found all my clothes and stuff thrown on the bench and floor and Fred dressing while standing in front of the locker.
Shall I pick up my clothes and dress or shall I wait until he is gone? While I was pondering, Fred asked if those were my clothes. “Yes sir!” I said which set him into a tirade. I don’t remember all he said, but it was something about those “skinny, pencil-necked, danged track guys” staying out of “his” locker. I never used “his” locker again!
Enough diversions for now and back to track.
In those days the freshman ran in their own division and not with the varsity. By this time an assistant track coach, Bob Barfield had been hired. Coach Barfield was a good man and a good coach who was interested in his athletes.
We had a good freshman track class—from pole vaulter to shot putter to quarter milers, distance guys, and a few sprinters. No, Clyde Hart did not initiate “quarter miler school”, but it started with Barfield, then to Jack Patterson, and then to Hart.
I don’t remember all the track meets or how I did, but I do recall moderate success. We had two mile runners—Joe Garcia and me. Joe was pretty good, but I was slightly better.
We participated in track meets with the U.S.C. sprinter, who was considered the “world’s fastest human” of his day. In addition, there were Bobby Morrow and Eddie Southern, both Olympic champions and other big names I can’t remember. In those days there were no blacks allowed in southern, white colleges. The only black I ever competed against was from Fort Hood. On a rainy day in Waco we ran against a team from Ft. Hood. This smallish, black miler got ahead early and led me all the way. I gave him just enough of a good race that he wound up with mud on his back and I had mud all over my face and front.
I will divert again for a minute—I also walked on to play basketball. There were several fairly good scholarship athletes on the freshman team. I could jump and rebound well, but really couldn’t shoot a lick. Bill Menefee, was a fine coach that I really respected. One day he pulled me aside and told me “Charley, since you are on track scholarship, you are welcome to come and practice with us, but I won’t be able to play you.” Thus ended my basketball career, except for church league and pickup games.
Back to track—there were two watershed events that season that wound up my track career.
I had always dreamed of running in the Texas Relays in Austin. This was and still is the premier track meet in Texas. To make a long story short I missed the team bus, which set Jack Wilson off big time. Since I lived at home and not on campus, I believe the other athletes were told the departure time without me being present. Of course, to him it was a sin that deserved punishment. On that Friday afternoon I borrowed the family car and drive to San Marcos where the team was staying. I spent the night in the team’s motel and went to the meet with the team. No one said anything to me so I assumed I was to run my usual—the mile. I spent the day Saturday under the stands at Memorial Stadium in Austin resting and preparing myself to run. When it came time to run, I found I had been scratched. No coach told me—I was simply out of the race.
I continued to run—again with moderate success—always running the mile and, at least, beating Joe Garcia. Incidently, Joe was a good guy and good friend, but I did like to win!
The conference track meet was held in Rice Stadium in Houston. I was all set to run the mile with my wife to be and her family in the stands. Also, the meet was being radio broadcast back into Waco.
A day or so before the meet I was told that, since our best half-miler (Allen Mayne) was injured, I would run the half-mile. I hadn’t been working out for that race, but it was ok with me because I had run it many times before. On the first lap I merely tried to stay in the middle of the pack, but when we started around the final turn, Allen Mayne—sore leg, notwithstanding, was leading and I was just outside him.
I thought—I can win this thing, so I shifted into overdrive and took the lead. However, my finishing kick wasn’t nearly enough and it seemed I was standing in a median with traffic going by as I finished sixth.
It was tough later on when my friends said they were excited to hear when I pulled into the lead, but wondered why I wasn’t mentioned again.
After the season I thought long and hard about the price I was paying for a half-scholarship. It seemed to me that it would be easier to get a part-time job. There were two other reasons—one, someone told me that the coaches were thinking about putting me on the two mile. Well, the two mile is the time all the fans go to the concession stands. I didn’t want to be out there “busting it” with nobody looking.
Two, I was in love!
I had many good times competing and doing my best with my limited ability. You know, all of us have limited abilities in various areas—so, get used to it! Do your best to excel and improve while you enjoy the journey.