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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TRACK AND FIELD SPORTS

TRACK AND FIELD SPORTS

TRACK AND FIELD SPORTS test the speed, strength, and agility of individuals and teams in running, throwing, and vaulting events, which usually include cross-country running and marathons, although they are not performed on the field. In recent years the number of people participating in track and field events has increased dramatically and the application of science to athlete training has improved performance to the point where the sport requires full-time attention at the championship level. While track and field has generated stars who have become professionals through media coverage at the Olympic games, the sport retains its amateurism at most levels of competition

Early in Cleveland's history, impromptu track and field events took place on various festive occasions or as professional contests with paid admission and cash prizes. Foot racing or pedestrianism was encouraged in the city when professional long distance walker Edward Payson Weston visited Cleveland in 1867 and 1868 to demonstrate his prowess, stimulating the formation of local walking clubs. Gymnasiums provided exercise equipment, training facilities, and a venue for indoor track and field events such as jumping, weight throwing, and weight lifting.

In the 1880s local athletic clubs and colleges provided new outlets for track and field activity. In 1886 the CLEVELAND ATHLETIC CLUB (CAC) held its first summer meet 31 July at Athletic Park, where competitors from the Midwest participated in track and bicycle races. The CAC also sent WRU law student CHARLES W. "BILLY" STAGE to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he won both the 100 and 220 yd. dashes. Continuing intercollegiate competition, however, began when Adelbert College and Case School of Applied Science held their first track and field meet in 1896. Cleveland also was host to the Ohio Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s first Big 6 track meet at GLENVILLE RACE TRACK 28 May 1903, with Western Reserve, Case School of Applied Science, Ohio State, Ohio Wesleyan, Oberlin, and Kenyon participating. While the field events at the 1903 meet were important to the collegians who took part in them, the 4,000 spectators were reportedly more interested in the speed races. Intercollegiate track competition attracted more attention as consistent training programs and regularly scheduled meets resulted in new records. Student-athletes and those who had access to Cleveland's elite clubs formed a core of amateurism that dominated the sport after the turn of the century.

In the 1880s and 1890s track and field activities also became available for working men and boys through the YMCA (see YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN.) as part of its physical culture program and through the settlement houses established in ethnic neighborhoods to Americanize the immigrants arriving in the city. Immigrant groups also provided their own athletic facilities, such as the Turnvereins, which served Cleveland's large German community, and the Sokol halls established in the Slavic neighborhoods, which were used to promote physical fitness and pride in their respective homelands. The Cleveland Public School System (see CLEVELAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS) regularized track and field events in 1904 when the Athletic Senate was given authority over interscholastic competition. Central, Collinwood, East, East Technical, Glenville, John Adams, Lincoln, South, West, and West Technical were founding members of the Public School Athletic League. Four years later, the newly organized Ohio High School Athletic Assn. held its initial state-wide track meet.

These various athlete-centered outlets also served as the initial training ground for the quadrennial Olympic Games, which were revived in 1896. EDWARD HENNIG, the first Clevelander to compete in the games, won a gold medal for Indian Club swinging in 1904 and tied for first in the horizontal bars. As the premier event in track and field competition, the Olympics also became a vehicle for promoting the interests of nation-states, business concerns, and sports bureaucracies during the 20th century, rather than for the athletes themselves. The importance of national interest was demonstrated when Cleveland's JESSE OWENS challenged Nazi notions about white Aryan supremacy, winning 4 gold medals and setting 3 Olympic records at the 1936 games in Germany. While Owens's success was celebrated by black and white Americans alike, black athletes continued to be excluded from the nation's major professional team sports.

The 1930s were the heyday of managed competition in the sport. Annual track meets were held in Cleveland at every level of amateur attainment, and local stars won acclaim in a number of national and international meets. Beginning in 1941, the annual KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS TRACK MEET brought world-class athletes to the city on a regular basis, and the indoor meet remained a popular attraction in Cleveland until the late 1980s, when sponsorship became difficult to obtain. After World War II local schools, colleges, and athletic clubs continued to offer opportunities for men to train and compete in track and field events, producing Harrison Dillard, gold medalist in hurdles and sprints at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, and sprinter Paul Drayton, who won Olympic gold and silver medals in 1964.

The opportunities for Cleveland women to train and compete in track and field events, however, were available only through local track clubs. STELLA WALSH, who trained at SOKOL POLSKI, achieved international recognition in her 30-year career. In the 1960s promising local women, trained by Alex Ferenczy of the Cleveland Track Club, participated in the Olympic and the Pan-American Games, including Madeline Manning Jackson, 1968 Olympic gold medalist in the 800-meter race. To establish the same competitive opportunities for women that men enjoyed, Clevelander Frances Kaszubski, U.S. shotput and discus champion, worked with national sports organizations to overcome objections to women in competition. Her efforts helped bring about varsity sports programs in public schools and colleges. Parity of the sexes, established under Title IX in 1972, coincided with the popularity of long-distance running for physical fitness by both men and women. Cleveland businessman Jess Bell organized the 10K BONNE BELL RUN in 1976, exclusively for women, and in 1978 Revco inaugurated a 26-mile marathon run and separate 10K race in Cleveland for men and women, which attracted participants from all over the world (see REVCO MARATHON AND 10K).

Amateur track and field events involving broad segments of the population have been an integral part of Cleveland sporting history. The wide range of competitive events, however, has not lent itself to the consistent spectator interest enjoyed by the city's major team sports. Although media coverage of the international Olympics in recent years has given track and field events extensive public exposure, and the number of participants in track and field events has grown exponentially, it remains an athlete-centered sport in Cleveland, open to all ages and all levels of accomplishment.

Mary B. Stavish

Case Western Reserve Univ.