Syracuse Online

Bill Townsend 1926-2003

Every Runner's Friend

Published March 31, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

In the early days of broadcasting track meets on the Internet, we encountered a range of challenges ranging from technology to apathy. On the track, our camera crews of teenagers often got in the way of disinterested officials. Mutual frustrations often resulted.

A veteran track official "par excellence", Bill Townsend took the time to understand what the new medium sought to achieve. A computer novice at best, he saw the benefits of letting kids broadcast the accomplishments of their peers, and went out of his way to help. He made a point to encourage the young crews, and to talk shop with their mentors off the track.

The cheerful voice of Bill Townsend greeted us at many indoor and outdoor track meets, as we traveled from coast to coast to broadcast youth competition. He spotted our yellow shirts from a distance, walked up to greet us with "Hey, doc, good to see you here," and introduced us to his fellow officials as his "friends from Syracuse".

Townsend facilitated camera placements for good coverage, while ensuring the smooth conduct of the meet and the safety of the runners. Oftentimes, meet directors invited our crew to the officials' hospitality suite. I could hear the kids strategizing their lunch breaks "let's go now, Mr. Townsend is in there". He would invite them to his table, and brag about them to his cronies.

Locally, Townsend was the premier starter for Section 3 high school track meets. He treated the athletes with firmness and fairness. A towering, fatherly figure with an authoritative voice, he conducted races with mechanical efficiency. As sprinters fidgeted in their blocks, his reassuring "Stand-up, ladies" broke the tension and got them ready to race. It was evident that the kids were Townsend's true passion.

A native of Asbury Park, Townsend was a Navy Veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He moved to Clay in 1964, and worked for Liberty Mutual until his retirement in 1988. He was a member and president of the Central New York track and field association and a certified official of USA track and field. In 1990, the Syracuse Chargers Track Club honored Townsend with their Volunteer Award.

When not officiating, Townsend participated in athletic competition as a sprinter and triple jumper. He finished fourth in the triple jump in the 70-74 age group at the 1998 National Masters indoor championships in Boston.

Townsend died on March 24, 2003 at the age of 76 after a brief battle with cancer. We will miss him.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

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