San Jose State getting its track and field groove back


My reaction to San Jose State bringing back track and field:

It's about time.

I've got a lot of history with that program. The decision in 1988 to drop the program that made the school famous is one to which I have continued to harbor hostility and resentment.

I grew up in San Jose and was a senior at James Lick High School in East San Jose when the 1968 Olympics took place. I was thrilled when San Jose State runners Tommie Smith and Lee Evans took gold in the 200 and 400, respectively.

Evans was a particular favorite of mine. When I was in eighth grade he ran 46.9 in the 440 at nearby Overfelt High. I became friends with Dayton Evans, his younger brother, when I was running for Lick and Dayton was doing the same at Overfelt. Dayton and I were at more or less the same level speed-wise, which of course means he was a mere mortal, nothing like his older brother.

It was a terrific experience watching Lee Evans lead Larry James and Vince Matthews in a U.S. sweep of the 400 in Mexico City, becoming the first man to run under 44 seconds (43.86) in the process. James, from Villanova and White Plains, N.Y., also went sub-44 at 43.98.

I was proud of Tommie Smith and SJS teammate John Carlos when they made their statement on the victory stand after taking first and third in the 200. I'd been a fan of Smith's for several years, since he was known as Tommie "Jet" Smith while running for SJS. He acquired that nickname due to the Tommie Jet gear he would display once he really got his long legs going at full speed in the latter part of a race. It seemed he had another gear when other runners were slowing.

I still remember when a special 220 on the straightaway race was set up for Tommie at Bud Winter Field, just to see how fast he could run that distance without the slowing effect of a turn. He was clocked in 19.5 that day, a half-second faster than Henry Carr's 220 world record at the time of 20.0.

That Smith-Evans-Carlos trio were the headliners of Speed City, that incredible group of sprinters that came together in the late 1960s at San Jose State. Top sprinters from all over the country were coming to San Jose to train with the best. Ronnie Ray Smith, Kirk Clayton, Sam Davis, Billy Gaines -- Bud Winter had so many great sprinters coming to join his program that he had to stash some at San Jose City College.

The program continued to attract great athletes. In the 1970s when I was a student at San Jose State I became friends with Bruce Leek, a high hurdler from Gary, Ind. One day I stopped by his apartment and he introduced me to his roommate, a 25-foot long jumper from Bakersfield.

"He's going to play football, too," Bruce told me.

That long jumper-football player was Louie Wright, who went on to become a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback during a 12-year career with the Denver Broncos.

It's no wonder the San Jose State football and basketball programs have gone through so many years of struggle following the dissolution of the track program.

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6 people like this
Posted by San Jose State grad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Pleased to see appropriate and interesting coverage of San Jose State. Stanford publicity dominates all local college/university sports coverage. There are plenty of grads here of the above institution as well as U.C. Berkeley, Santa Clara, Foothill, etc. Thanks again. Many of us are uninterested in breathless bragging press releases from Stanford. This includes games at the start of the season (football) wherein Stanford (with a 100X budget over their opponent) brags about smashing (usually) the opponent: San Jose State, U.C. Davis, etc.

1 person likes this
Posted by SJSU Spartan
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2016 at 10:49 am

Running an athletic program costs money. SJSU track and field will die again unless donors are found to support the program. If you think reviving track and field is a good idea, then please donate to support it.

From Web Link

"Neither Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier nor SJSU President Mary Papazian attempted to economically justify adding a sport that generates little revenue to offset what is expected to cost about $400,000 annually in operating expenses. Instead, they said the money was an investment in reinvigorating school spirit by tying the athletic program back to historic roots."

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