Friday, May 4, 2007

Last Track Meet

Track: The end of a prestigious run

Rob Hardin / Senior Staff Photographer /

Ohio’s Austin Schiele competes in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase during the Southern Ohio Cup on March 31. Schiele and his teammates will compete in the Ohio men’s track program’s final home meet tomorrow.

When the last runner crosses the finish line at the Ohio Open tomorrow, it will not just be the end of a meet — it will be the end of an era.

Tomorrow’s competition marks the final home meet for the men’s track and field team as it prepares for the Mid-American Conference Championships next Thursday in Oxford.

On Jan. 25, Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt announced that four varsity sports would be eliminated, including men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, ending one of the most storied programs in the school’s athletic history.

Since its inception in the early 1900s, the men’s track and field program has won more individual national titles — six — than any other program at Ohio. Track and field athletes have been named All-Americans 28 times and have won 94 Mid-American Conference titles.

During the 1966-67 season, sophomore Emmett Taylor won the first national title in the program’s history in the 440-yard dash, but he said that wasn’t the greatest moment in his career.

“Winning the second national championship that I ran in (was). It was more exciting than the first because I had left my shoes in the hotel that I was staying in,” said Taylor, who won his second national title in 1968 in the 200-meter. “One of my best friends lent me his shoes, and I ran the race in those.”

Just as impressive as the team’s success on the field has been the team’s exemplary status off it.

Elmore “Mo” Banton became Ohio’s first black head coach in 1980 and stayed with the program for more than 20 years. In all of those years and all of the kids he coached, he said not many ever caused problems.

“I think back on my years at OU, and in 23 years, I bet I couldn’t come up with five kids that I had trouble with,” Banton said. “That’s a small number when you compare the amount of kids on a track team.”

The Bobcats became one of the founding members of the MAC in 1946, but they didn’t experience much success until Stan Huntsman took over 10 years later.

Huntsman helped develop 15 All-Americans, and the athletes he coached placed at the NCAA championships 10 times. He coached his team to a school-best eighth-place finish in 1968. He later became the program’s only member to be named to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Despite his success on the field, Huntsman said that his greatest achievement at Ohio had nothing to do with helping the team gain national prominence.

“I think my biggest accomplishment was being a good positive teacher and coach and a big influence on the student-athletes,” Huntsman said. “I’m real proud with how the alums that I coached turned out.”

Taylor, who started his own business after his track career, and is now retired and living in Las Vegas, said that his days at Ohio helped him become a better person.

“It helped me immensely for the training I did and to grow as an individual. It made me a better human being,” Taylor said. “I had an easier time meeting people, so it made it easier for me to talk to people and just to be more aggressive in life.”

Eric Bildstein, a fifth-year senior, set the school indoor record in the 35-pound weight throw during the 2004 season. Bildstein said that being on the track team enhanced his overall college experience.

“OU is a great place to go to college,” Bildstein said. “Being able to compete with the Ohio colors on was just great. It just made college so much more worthwhile.”

Banton, who won a national title in cross country for the Bobcats, said that coming to Ohio was the best moment in his life.

“The greatest thing to happen to me was going to OU. It was not my first pick back in those days, and I’m glad I did,” he said. “I learned a lot about coaching, and then to come back and coach (at Ohio) was just the greatest thing.”

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