Monday, March 2, 2009

Black Buzz's Track Career

The Ronald B. Saunders Project
The Saunders Family Archives
March 2, 2009

I informally began running and participating in track and field related activities in 1949 through 1956 at the American Newspaper Guild, Pittsburgh Local Annual Employee/Family outdoor outings which were held at the Buffalo Inn Grove in South Park, Bethel Park, PA.

My mother, Beatrice L. Saunders Robinson, was employed at The Pittsburgh Courier as the office manager. She was also chairperson of the Courier unit of the American Newspaper Guild. She was a member of the executive board of the Guild and served as treasurer of the Pittsburgh unit of the American Newspaper Guild. My mother was the first African American female in the country to serve as treasurer of a local major union. The Guild was composed of newspaper employees from The Pittsburgh Courier, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph. My brother Thomas and I won every year in our age groups in sprint races throwing and other related track and field events. I won the Sprints and the Long Run for my cabin as a camper at the YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee in 1953,'54,'55 and '56., softball.

My formal track career began in the spring of 1957 in the ninth grade (freshmen) at Herron Hill Jr. High School, located in Pittsburgh, PA. I ran the 75 yd. dash and the second leg on the 440 Yard Medley Relay
Team. I was also a member of the Herron Hill Jr. High School Softball Team which had such outstanding players as Melvin Moore, Jerry and Kenny Williams, Herb (Herky) Moffett, Raymond Talley, Alfred Diggs, Long Tall Charley Franklin, Clarence Edwards, Melvin Davis, William Miller and others.
The coach of the Herron Hill Jr. High School Softball Team was my 1957 championship swimming team coach, Edwin Geasa. On the day of the qualifying meet for the City Track and Field Meet, I also had a softball game scheduled. I made a very poor selfish immature decision that day to play softball instead of running on my Herron Hill’s relay team in the 440 Yard Medley Relay. To the best of my recollection, I was the only student in the entire school who was playing two varsity sports at the same time during the same season. Herron Hill was the favorite to win the Track and Field Championship in 1957 since Herron Hill had beaten Westinghouse Jr. High School in a dual meet at Schenley Field earlier in the season by capturing the 440 Yard Medley Relay. The Herron Hill 440 yard relay team that beat Westinghouse was composed of Melvin Barnett who ran the first leg, followed by I who ran the second leg, followed by Earl Hardy who ran the third leg and Big Mo McLaughlin ran the anchor leg. Because I did not show up to run my second leg on the 440 Yard Medley Relay for the Qualifying Meet for the City Championship, Coach Ruehl gave Arthur Green, my alternate, the opportunity to run in the relay race. Westinghouse won the 440 Yard Medley Relay in the qualifying meet and in the championship meet thus capturing the 1957 Pittsburgh Public Schools Jr. High Championship Track and Field Meet.
Coach Ruehl and my teammates blamed me for losing the title because of my failure to participate in running the second leg. By losing the 440 Yard Medley Relay Race, Herron Hill Jr. High lost the 1957 Title Championship to Westinghouse Jr. High School. Herron Hill Jr. High was the runner-up. I have not spoken to or have seen any of the members of that 1957 Herron Hill Jr. High School Relay Team since the summer of 1957. I wish to apologize to all the members of the Herron Hill Jr. High School Track and Field Team for my selfish, immature, irresponsible decision in not choosing to run on the relay team in 1957. The apology should have been done over 50 years ago. To say the least, my parents were highly disappointed.

I ran track and played varsity basketball for Slippery Rock Area Joint High School from 1958-60 which is located in northern Butler County. I lived on Saniga Road, and our extensive property was located in Slippery Rock Township and Cherry Township. I lived two miles from my school bus stop which was on Old Keister Road. I either walked two miles or rode my Roadmaster bike in all types of weather.

Three of my teammates on the track and basketball teams were Farouk Salik who ran on the track team, Ralph Turner who played on the basketball team and Fred (Ray) Lucas who ran track and played basketball and who is now a retired teacher and former track and football coach from the famed Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, PA. After Salik and Turner graduated in 1958, Fred and I were the only two Blacks on the track and basketball team. Slippery Rock Area Joint School System had a total of nine Black students at any one time in the entire school system. They were as follows:
1. Yvonne Jobe (Class of ‘61)
2. Clarence Jobe ( Class of ‘60)
3. Fred Lucas (Class of ‘60)
4. Farouk Salik (Class of ’58)
5. Naseera Salik (Class of ’60)
6. Ronald Saunders (Robinson)
7. Dick Turner?
8. Jean Turner?
9. Ralph Turner (class of ’58)
*10 Kenny Armstrong

I had to walk six miles after every basketball and track practice to my bicycle station which was located at the old Country General Store at the junction of Keister and Coaltown and Keister Road.  I walked down Route 8 and back on to Old Keister Road to Coaltown Road and bicycled to Saniga Road. I didn’t fear anyone or anything having come from the Hill District section of Pittsburgh. I walked pass cow pastures that are now practice sports fields for soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and football for Slippery Rock University of
Pennsylvania. Also, apartment complexes that are housing dorms for Slippery Rock University students permeate the once serene right side of Keister Road going toward Route 8. Deer and other animals would cross my path but I had no fear because I also had a strong faith in God and an awareness of what was going on around me. I was quite familiar with many aspects of the outdoors having been a member of The Boy Scouts of America, Troop# 93 which was located at Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church on Iowa Street in the Hill District Section of Pittsburgh. I also attended the YMCA’s popular Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, PA during the summer which helped to prepare me for a multitude of life’s skills in dealing with my fellowman and my environment.
My track career was average at Slippery Rock Area Joint High School although I came in second and third place in the 100 and 220 yd.dash at the Karns City Invitational Track & Field Meet in ’58, ’59 and ’60. I also placed in the finals of the 100 and 220 yd dash at the Tri County Meet held in 1960 in New Castle, PA , Lawrence County. My teammate, Fred Lucas, was an excellent miler and qualified for the State Meet in the Mile Run. Fred went on to have a very successful track career at Slippery Rock State College in Slippery Rock, PA. I also played varsity basketball and averaged seven points and six rebounds even though I never had played school or organized basketball while attending the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
I had a medical check-up in 1959 from the renowned Dr. Earl B. Smith whose office was in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Smith informed my parents that my tests revealed that I was tired. Perhaps there was too much walking and bicycling! The greatest athlete of the last century, Jim Thorpe, ran over twenty miles a day from his home to school.

The poem: “Record Breaker: May 1962?” is about me when I broke the record in the 100 yd. dash in a time of 10 seconds flat (10.0) at the Maine State Preparatory School Track and Field Meet held at in Pittsfield Maine on May 26, 1962 while running for the track team of Fryeburg Academy, located in Fryeburg, Maine.

Fryeburg Academy, established in 1792, of which Daniel Webster was one of the first headmasters, is one of the oldest private schools in America.
The Academy’s charter was signed by John Hancock, one of the founding fathers and the first to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Down East Magazine in its November, 1999 issue, described Fryeburg Academy as “tucked into a tiny town in the foothills of the White Mountains is one of the most unusual---and successful---private schools in America”.

 According to Maine Interscholastic Track and Field Championship Program Guide (Class M), dated June 4, 1955, the following people ran the 100 yd.dash in 10.4 seconds which was the record in that event:
Kilton, Wash. Academy, 1933
Hill, Cape Elizabeth, 1936
Haines, Fort Fairfield, 1949
Steward, Skowhegan, 1952.

I also captured first place in the 220 yd.dash at the Maine State Prep Meet in a time of 23.2 seconds. In the same aforementioned Program Guide, it was noted that Pruitt (’47), from Traip Academy, ran the 220 yd. dash in 23.2 seconds. My time would have appeared to have tied Pruitt’s time of 23.2 which was the record. Furthermore, I ran 22.6 on two separate occasions at Kents Hill Academy Invitational Track  and Field Meet and at Fryeburg Academy Invitational Track and Field Meet. Also note, the Fryeburg track was a horse track.
In April, 1962, at the Lake Region Track and Field Meet held at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, I came in first in my heat in the 100 and 220 yd. dash, but I came in second place overall in the 100 yd. dash with a time of 10.4 and third in the 220 yd.dash with a time of 23.4. The officials took the best overall time in the four heats in the 100 yd. dash and the 220 yd.dash that were run that day. The finals were not run due to the extreme and inclement weather and a temperature of 34 degrees with a swift wind blowing off Lake Winnipesaukee. Also, I had a slight hamstring pull while running in the Lake Region Meet.
I ran 9.9 in the 100 yd.dash at the Kents Hill Invitational Track and Field Meet, held at Kents Hill Academy in Kents Hill, Maine. I ran the 220 yd.dash with a time of 22.4. Note the Kents Hill Academy Track had a slight downgrade on the track, so therefore even though I broke the state record in both dashes, the records were not official because of the imperfection in the track.
On May 1, 1962, I came in first place at the Fryeburg Academy Invitational Track Meet in the 100 yd.dash with a time of 10.2, first place in the 220 yd.dash with a time of 22.6 and first place in the running broad jump with a leap of 22.7 inches. I did not train for the running broad jump event and consequently I was jumping about a foot behind the startling line (take-off board) which could have been at least 24 feet. I did not participate in the running broad jump at the Maine State Preparatory School Track and Field Meet in May, 1962.
I used the same Adidas white track shoes that my brother Thomas used which were designed for the 440 yd. run and the half mile. The shoes were not sprinters’ shoes nor did they have sprinters’ spikes. My coach, Peter A. Halle who was also the French teacher at the Academy, passed ten years ago. My other coach the great Eldon W. Heartz who also coached my brother is also deceased.

My brother, Thomas John Saunders, Jr., was a member of the ’55, ’56, ’57 Fryeburg Academy Track and Field Team. His specialty was the 440
Tom’s daughter, Janey Lee Saunders made All State, All Region, All District and Honorable Mention All American in cross country and track in high school in 1997 and 1998 in the State of Virginia.
Our father, James S. Robinson, Jr., was a world class track star at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. His specialty was the 110 and 120 yd.high hurdles.
My track career ended in 1977 with victories in the Masters AAU in the 100, 200 and 400 meter dash at Mount Lebanon High School Field in Mount Lebanon, PA.

This is my poem titled: Record Breaker: May, 1962?

I remember breaking the record in the 100 yard dash
while running on a track of cinders and ash
At the Maine State Prep School Meet
 which was quite a feat
For an audacious brother growing up on Francis Street

As I stepped into my starting Block
I put aside my defeats I suffered at Slippery Rock
At the sound of the starter’s Gun
Man, did I begin to Run,

A White lady shouted from the stands
“That colored boy runs like a "Deer"
As I breezed along with my graceful stride without any fear
I was in overdrive in my main passing gear

I had a sizable lead at the fifty yard mark
Felt strong and confident like a high flying meadowlark,
I trained incessantly hard to win this race
with my tremendous kick I knew I had an ace.

I crossed the finish line in first place
with a great big old smile
written all over my face.

My elated coach Halle informed me that I had set a new State record of ten flat
But the track officials disallowed my new record
because of claims of excessive wind
But I often pondered
 was it really because of the color of my skin?

By Ronald B. Saunders
Copyright, 1996

* The long walking and cycling in Slippery Rock ( 8 miles three times a week) helped to prepare me to win the State Title in the 100 and 220 Yard Dashes. I must say that I only ran the 440 Yard Dash once in practice at the old Fryeburg dirt Horse Track and I ran 50.4 flat and coaches Halle and Heartz looked shocked. Coach Heartz said he never had anyone at Fryeburg run a quarter mile that fast at Fryeburg. I told both coaches that I wasn't running as fast I could because of a lack of familiarity with the event but I didn't break a sweat.
S. Hartgen of Hebron Academy won the State title in the 440 at a time of 52.6. So my practice time of 50.4 could have easily have won the state title in the 440. Plus the fact that I would have trained for the 440 along with the 100, 220. My teammate Steve Wilson came in third place in the State Meet in the 440 Yard Run and Steve Hartgen's brother Don came in second place for Hebron Academy.
If I would have had sprinters spikes on I could have run faster in the State meet.
 Coach Halle asked me did I want to run the 440 and Broad Jump and I said no, which was again was the wrong decision. That cost my team two addtional first place wins and I could have captured two more blue ribbons. We had a light lunch of peaches, and eggs that didn't agree with my stomach but I still ran in the finals of the 100 and 220 with limited amount of sucess.
Is a 2mph an excessive wind?