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Dr. J. on Running

History of Indoor Track

A Lap into the Past

Published February 12, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

In the words of Luke LaPorta, former director of athletics at Liverpool Central Schools, "indoor track is like the extra pig in the litter." Over the past forty-some years, taking milk wherever it found it was precisely what indoor track did to survive.

As we gathered around newspaper clippings and old meet programs from yesteryears, Coach Oscar Jensen recalled the birth of indoor track competition in Syracuse. Jensen, a former Syracuse University (SU) athlete and a local track coach since 1963, has served as the State coordinator for boys' indoor track for twelve years.

It all started on January 23, 1965, when SU hosted the first high school indoor track meet at Manley Field House. Jim Decker, the SU athletic director, and Bob Grieve, the SU track coach, worked with Brother Basilian and Don Merrill, the athletic directors at Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) and Henninger High School, to organize the meet.

The first meet involved several local coaches, such as Jensen from Liverpool, Jerry Reardon from CBA, Joe Davis from Solvay and Bob Powers from Most Holy Rosary. Half the officials were Brothers - Anthony, Basilian, Bernard, Michael, Patrick and Thomas, evidence of CBA's past influence. The competitors came from Baldwinsville, Cazenovia, CBA, Cortland, Liverpool, Ludden, North Syracuse, Oswego and McQuaid.

In the sixties, Manley Field House contained a 160-yard wooden track over a oil-soaked dirt floor. The length of the track dictated the competition. The first meets featured events at 160 yards, 600 yards, 1,000 yards, one mile, two miles and a mix of relays.

The first six runners in each event took home medals. Those who fell took home nasty splinters, and everybody went away with the Manley cough - as the runners pounded the track, oil fumes and dust rose from the ground into their throats and lungs. Ironically, the Manley cough survived the modernization of the Field House, as generations of runners can attest.

Competition in Manley was a precursor to a State championship. The boys' inaugural State indoor meet took place at Cornell University on March 18, 1972. Athletes from six sections competed, and the official meet program sold for 25 cents.

New York State's first girls' indoor track and field championship was held on March 4, 1978 at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. Athletes came from eight of New York's twelve sections, and the program sold for one dollar and fifty cents. That was the only year in which the boys' and girls' State championships were held separately.

As the litter of scholastic athletics matures and leaves the proverbial pigsty, there is every indication that the extra pig is healthy and strong. In the midst of a culture that rewards participation instead of achievement, and a class system that promotes athletic socialism by awarding bushels of titles and medals, indoor track celebrates its thirtieth championship as the only sport that crowns true State champions.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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