"We're Going to Have Trouble with That Little..."


They caught early flights back from China, traveled from as far away as Louisiana and the West Coast, and rearranged hectic schedules to attend a June retirement dinner at the Colonial Hilton in Wakefield, Massachusetts, for legendary Bates track coach Walt Slovenski. Why did nearly two hundred track alumni and former colleagues come together? "We love the guy. He has a boundless enthusiasm and positive spirit," said Steve Ryan '83, who organized the program. In excerpts from Slovenski's remarks that evening, his joie de vivre comes through loud and clear.

My first Bates track meet was held in the old cage in January 1953. Jack Magee was the Bowdoin coach, and I had been warned to watch for him. He was a tough old coach who had been an Olympic coach in 1924.

Before the meet, Jack Magee tried to tell me that we were going to use the Maine starting rule for the meet. The Maine starting rule was that after one false start, a runner would have to move back six inches, and would have to back up another six inches after a second false start, and so on.

"No Mr. Magee," I said. "We're going to run this meet by the NCAA rule."

Jack Magee was visibly unhappy about that, and he went back to sitting with his assistant coach, Frank Sabasteanski, in the corner behind the Bates dash starting line.

A few minutes later, Jack Magee came over from the corner to complain about the lane assignments, and he tried to tell me how we were going to do it by the AAU lane-assignment rule. "No Mr. Magee," I said. "We're going to run this meet by the NCAA rule."

Again the Bowdoin coach shook his head, threw up his hands, and walked back to the corner.

Throughout the meet we argued about several other rules that Jack wanted to have his way, and I said, "No Mr. Magee. We're going to use the NCAA rule."

After one of our disagreements Jack went back to his seat next to Frank, and one of my sprinters overheard them talking about me. My sprinter told me that Jack Magee said, "Frank, we're going to have trouble with that little bastard."

A champion debuts
I'll never forget the first day Rudy Smith '60 came out to practice. I said, "Why don't you run four 300s at a reasonable pace," and the field house just fell silent as everyone watched Rudy run around those square corners as though he'd been running on that track all his life. Rudy Smith was our best forty-yard dash man and best four-mile cross country runner. Someone asked if Rudy liked long distance, and I remembered that Rudy liked everything. He was smiling even when he was throwing up.

Ralph Posner '59 had a giant heart. And no one could pass him in the old field house. He would sprint like crazy on the straightaways, and slow down practically to a walk on the curves. He battled them off on the straightaways in races, and everyone loved to watch him run.

Frank Vana '61 was a good football, basketball, and baseball player at Bates. And one spring he came out for track as well as baseball, and he was the fastest guy on the track team. Frank played center field during the morning game of a doubleheader, and then they rolled back the outfield fence so we could hold the state meet, and Frank came over to the track and won the state meet hundred-yard dash, and then went back to play center field in the second game of the double-header.

White-line fever
Marty Levenson '81 never listened to us when we told him not to run in the middle of the road. He went home on vacation once and got hit by a car. When he got back to Bates he refused to run anyplace except on a golf course.

Scott Peura '90 came in early and cleared twelve-feet, six inches at Tufts in the conference meet, and the weather was getting bad and the four top seeds passed until thirteen feet. And then a wicked wind came up and it started to rain and no one else cleared anything, and Scott Peura won the conference pole-vault championship by outsmarting his opponents.

The great managers
There was Doug King '73, and Eric Bauer '76, and John Gallant '75, and Ray Peabody '76, and Joe Gromelski '74, and Ruth Thompson '89, and Terry Sharpe '78. And then one of my last managers, Rachel Goodrich '90, came in and organized everything in my office, and she did such a good job I couldn't find anything. She asked Matt Schecter '89 to help her select which things could be thrown out, and he came in and threw out everything except the stuff about Matt Schecter.

We were out at the Springbrook Golf Course for a practice, and I had a new manager, and at the end of the practice she came up to me with a sweatshirt full of golf balls. She showed them to me and said, "Coach, look at all the golf balls I found left on the course!" I said, "Oh Terry, you've got to put those back. You got them from the driving range."

See Walt drive
We got a late start driving to Tufts for a cross country meet and my van broke down at the Portland North exit. The guys all thought we'd miss the meet and go back to Bates. But I hitchhiked and got a ride, and we found the last rental van in Portland. I came back and found the guys by the road, and by this time we were terribly late, and I drove twenty miles down the turnpike with the team and this second van broke too. I felt as though I had two horses shot out from under me. So we gave up.

Have gas, will travel
There was the gasoline crisis in 1973, and the service stations were ordered to be closed on Sundays. The IC4As were held Saturday and Sunday at Princeton, and there would be no gas stations open all the way back on Sunday. Many other teams, including Bowdoin, the University of Maine, Tufts, and Dartmouth, canceled the trip because the gas stations would be closed on Sunday.

But we had some outstanding athletes and I was determined to go. So I came up with the idea of hiding gas cans in the woods along the way though Massachusetts and Connecticut on our way down on Friday.

And we had some excellent performances in the IC4A meet, and we drove back and every fifty miles I had to pull off and send Bill Bardaglio '76 or Bruce Wicks '74 or someone else from the team into the woods to find a five-gallon can of gas that we hid.

A state trooper stopped once when we were looking for a can in the woods. He thought that was the damnedest thing and helped us siphon the gas into the tank.

And the next week, Rick Baker '75 wanted to drive down to Bowdoin to practice at their outdoor track, and he asked me if I could give him gas money. I told him I couldn't give him gas money, but I could hide some gas in the woods for him.

A team travels on its stomach
On another trip to New York City we had a relay team staying at the Manhattan Hotel, and we went to eat in the Howard Johnson's in Times Square. And while we were eating, the building caught on fire, and they told everyone to get out because the building was on fire. The relay guys got up and stood at the cash register to pay, and I told them, "Forget it. Just get out of here." So we got a free dinner.

Early bird gets the runner
I met a bus in Lewiston at 5:30 a.m. to pick up Joe Grube '73 when he was applying to Bates, and Joe Grube later said that if Bates had a coach who would meet him at the bus station at 5:30 in the morning, then that's where he was going to school. And Joe went on to have a sensational career in everything from the 880 up through the five-mile cross country race.

Hear you knocking, can't come in
One state meet the Maine team took off into an early lead and they had eight guys out front running fast at the half mile. But they came to a screeching halt when they tried to get out the field gate because the gate was locked.

The Bates equipment manager had locked the gate getting ready for a football game, and the only gate open was a narrow, one-person gate. Maine had to stop and go single file, and just about when Maine made it though our guys came up and arranged themselves in single file and ran cleanly through the gate. We went on for an upset win in our home course. It was an accident, but Maine suspected we had done it on purpose.

Tough trackmen
Late in the season in the old Cage we were worn down, and the guys weren't looking forward to the regular workout. So I said we'd have an easy day and run some single-lap efforts, and each runner had to predict what he would run, and if they hit it right on the tenth of a second, I'd buy them an ice cream cone. Guys were lining up time after time, but no one hit it all day, and Dave Boone '62 said it was the hardest workout of his career.

Jon Ford '64 had a five-yard lead in the 600 at MIT, and after one and a half laps a nine-year-old kid came running across the MIT cage infield and ran across the track right in Jon's path, and John had to jump over him to win the 600. I always figured the MIT coach paid that kid to run in front of the Bates guy.

Bob Cedrone '76 broke his ankle on the toe board during the state meet, but two weeks later he got second place in the NCAA Division III meet throwing 183 feet with a broken ankle in a cast, and he got a standing ovation from the crowd.

We had a meet in the old Cage against Boston University, and during the two-mile run there was some contact between Tom Doyle '70 and the top BU runner. And Tom didn't back down, because he was an ex-Marine from the streets of Lynn, Massachusetts.

The race got more intense each lap, and Tom got jostled again, and then he jostled back, and then there were some elbows and Tom was elbowed hard and stumbled off the track. Tom stopped for a moment, put his hands on his hips, and watched the race go around the next turn. Then he started jogging across the infield, and then he sprinted across the infield back into the race and started slugging the guy who knocked him off the track.

The officials had to break it up, and neither one of them finished the race, and Tom was disqualified. I made him write a letter of apology to the BU runner, but I've gotta say that was the best fight I ever saw in Lewiston.

The bad guys
Ed Styrna came down from Maine and his assistant, Mike Cone, came with him. And we had signs on the wall at the finish line for each race that said, for example, "six hundred yards, four and a half laps," and Mike Cone started taking them down. I yelled, "Hey! what do you think you're doing?" and went right up to him on the track at the edge of the balcony. Ed Styrna came over quickly and took hold of my arm, and I pulled my arm away and told him, "Keep you hands off my clothes!"

And the crowd could see all of this and they cheered, "Fight! fight! fight!"

Unbeatable Bobcats
Our string of thirty consecutive dual-meet wins from 1957 through 1960 was amazing for a school of six hundred students because we had wins over Maine, the University of New Hampshire, Northeastern, Holy Cross, Boston University, Boston College, and the University of Connecticut. Can you imagine?

Rudy Smith '60, and John Douglas '60, and John Fresina '58 were on those teams and we had crowds lining the balcony. The crowd would start to roar when Rudy would get ready for a race and people from the library and the dining hall would hear the noise and drop whatever they were doing and rush over to see the action.

I remember when I came to Bates in 1952, I wasn't sure about coming to Maine, and they showed me the beautiful old Cage with the balcony and the high pitched glass roof and it looked like the old Madison Square Garden. I came to Bates and I just loved it here, and I stayed for forty-four years.

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Last modified: 11/21/96 by RLP