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A History of Summer Track & Field in Rochester, NY

Introduction:

It was Henry Ford, the automaker, who said that “history is largely bunk”. He thought that any written history would become an attempt to judge people and events as if they made sense. He concluded that any such attempt on the part of a reasonable man to explain the past as consisting of reasonable and consistent actions was doomed to fail. You see, according to Henry Ford, history is a record of confusion and delusion. Perhaps to show that often I am confused and deluded, I am presenting for your enjoyment a nowhere near complete history of summer track and field in Rochester, NY.

The Early Years:

This history of summer track and field in Rochester, NY begins on July 1, 1958 when the Rochester Track Club (RTC) was founded. The self-reliant Peter J. Todd, who would go on to become the feisty cross country and track coach at the Rochester Institute of Technology, contacted a few of the top runners in the greater Rochester area with the idea of forming a local running club – the Rochester Track Club. They originally came together as a road racing club although in the back of their minds they thought that together they might challenge the domination of the Buffalo area’s Gardentown Track Club. Pete Todd was elected as the first President of the RTC and served as such until 1976. Along with Todd, the original members of the RTC were Herb Wabnitz, Gary Thompson, Jerry Fuhrman and Ed Duncan. Early members included Jack Coons, Dick Ashley, Don Brown and a young city school sprinter named Trent Jackson. The club chose red and white as their official colors because four of the five founding members were either graduates or students of Cortland State college, whose colors - yep, you guessed it - just happened to be red and white. That first summer the RTC team won one team trophy and ended the year with seventeen members.

The early star of the RTC was Ed Duncan. Jack Coons remembers Ed Duncan as the “first hippie I had ever met. He had long hair and a carefree but very competitive attitude. He did not like to lose, even in practice.” Ed Duncan finished in 10th place in the 1958 Boston Marathon as a seventeen year old schoolboy. Duncan teamed with Coons, Dick Ashley and Don Brown to put the Rochester Track Club on the national map. In 1966, Track & Field News voted the RTC one of the top five distance teams in the country.

For those accustomed to the multitude of weekly road races in this area, the early long distance running schedule for the RTC team would have been quite a shock. There were only a handful of established road races in New York state in the entire summer. Usually the club members would pile into a station wagon and travel to a race with no sleeping accommodations planned. Coons remembers sleeping in the County Jail in Poughkeepsie, NY as guests of the local sheriff the night before one road race championship.

Trent Jackson, another early RTC member, represented the U.S. in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, pulling up in the semi-finals of the 100m dash after straining a muscle. Gold medalist (Bullet) Bob Hayes was the only runner to beat Trent at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon that year. Trent Jackson at one time held the national high school record for 100 yard dash at 9.4 seconds. In 1971 Trent became the inaugural inductee into the RTC Hall of Fame. Trent passed away at age 65 in March, 2007.

Despite the tremendous success of Trent Jackson, the early Rochester Track Club was a distance-oriented group. That was soon to change.

In the mid-1960’s the Rochester Track Club and the indomitable Peter J. Todd hosted a series of summer track meets at Brighton High School. In 1968 the meets were moved to the new all-weather track at RIT. By this time, the Tuesday evening Summer Track & Field Series was the core of the RTC’s activities. At that time, sanctioning of amateur sporting events was tightly controlled by the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) in order to prevent the contamination of amateur athletes from the professional or paid athlete. To circumvent the strict AAU controls, Pete Todd ran the summer track series as a closed competition. In order to compete in the Summer Series, you first had to join the RTC. The summer dues were $5. For ten years the Summer Track & Field Series was pretty much a one-man organization led by the iconoclastic RIT Coach, Pete Todd.

Note: Of course there were summer track and field events in Rochester, NY prior to the 1960’s but they were often one-time events like local town summer rec. events, the Jesse Owens meets or Junior Olympics and not the organized series of open meets that the RTC hosted.

A Changing of the Guard:

In 1976 Pete Todd retired as President of the RTC to devote more time to his growing RIT running program. His surprised successor as RTC President was 24 year-old Bill Quinlisk. The new RTC Board of Directors led by Quinlisk organized a merger of the Rochester Track Club, the Rochester Road Runners and Brockport’s College City Striders Club to form the Greater Rochester Track Club (GRTC). Quinlisk became the first President of the GRTC and continued hosting the Summer Track Series at RIT. The running boom of the 1970’s saw a dramatic increase in GRTC membership to nearly 2000 athletes by 1983. Along with the running boom came the amazing increase in numbers, size and quality of all kinds of local road races, cross country races and indoor and outdoor track & field meets. In many ways this was the heyday of the Summer Track Series and of running in general.

From that one team trophy won by the RTC in 1958, the GRTC by 1983 had won over 20 individual and team national championships and over 200 championships in both regional and state-level competition in cross country, road racing and track and field.

Rochester Summer Track and Field Series Meet Sites

1965 to 1967 Brighton High School

1968 to 1982 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

1983 to 1984 Monroe Community College (MCC)

1985 to 1986 Jefferson H.S.

1987 to 1993 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

1994 to 1995 McQuaid Jesuit High School

1996 to 1998 Frederick Douglass Junior High School

1999 University of Rochester (UR)

2000 to 2009 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

2010 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) & Penfield High School

Over the years more than 36,000 different athletes have competed in the Rochester Summer Track & Field Series.

Rochester Summer Track & Field Series Data

Year Site # Meets Total Athletes Series Director(s)

1958 July 1, 1958 Rochester Track Club (RTC) founded

1959

1960

1961

1962

1963

1964 Tokyo Olympics

1965

1966 Brighton HS

1967 Brighton HS

1968 RIT

1969 RIT

1970 RIT

1971 RIT

1972 RIT

1973 RIT

1974 RIT

1975 RIT

1976 RIT

1977 RIT

1978 RIT

1979 RIT 8 1273 Bill Quinlisk

1980 RIT 8

1981 RIT 8

1982 RIT 8 907

1983 MCC 8 1111

1984 MCC 8 1474

1985 Jefferson HS

1986 Jefferson HS

1987 RIT 8 1331 22nd year?

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992 RIT 6 551 Lisa Bower/Bill Quinlisk

1993 RIT 8 Ken Switnicki/Bill Quinlisk

1994 McQuaid 8

1995 McQuaid 8 Hammer incident - 30th year

1996 Douglass 6

1997 Douglass 6

1998 Douglass 7

1999 UR 6

2000 RIT/RH Dale Ladd/Bill Quinlisk/Dave Warth

2001 RIT 7 1302 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk

2002 RIT Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk

2003 RIT 7 950 1 rain out Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk

2004 RIT 7 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk

2005 RIT 6 1145 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk, 40th year

2006 RIT 5 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk

2007 RIT 5 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk

2008 RIT 6 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk/Brendan Fitzgerald

2009 RIT 5 Dave Warth/Bill Quinlisk/Brendan Fitzgerald

2010 to present 6/7 Penfield HS Dave Hennessey/Laura Bourcy/Doug Schneider

Below are the only results that I could find for the 1958 Boston Marathon where RTC member Ed Duncan finished 10th overall as a 17 year old schoolboy.

Boston Marathon 1958

203 entrants

”A foreign runner once again found the finish line ahead of the field as Yugoslavian Franjo Mihalic, the 1956 Olympic runner-up, ran to victory in 2:25:54. Almost five minutes behind was John J. Kelley, who finished second 2:30:51. This marked Kelley's second of five runner-up performances. Mihalic survived the 84-degree day to become the first and only Eastern European resident to win the Boston Marathon.”

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