Brown University Track Memories
Bill Long 3/19/08
I received an unexpected and, at first, confusing email entitled "Brown Throws Newsletter" the other day. I thought at first it had something to do with my alma mater, Brown University, discarding something or other, but then I realized that one of the current track coaches, Michelle Eisenreich, was trying to initiate a newsletter directed to former and present "throwers" (i.e., shot, discus, hammer, 35 lb. weight) of Brown. In my days at Brown (I participated in track from 1970-72) we were not referred to as throwers; indeed, "throwing" the shot was precisely what you weren't supposed to do. We were "weight men," a term that no doubt went out the window with the passage of Title IX in the mid-1970s. I read the newsletter with middling interest but midway through it I was unexpectedly thrown back to the sights, sounds and, unfortunately, the smells of Marvel Gymnasium and Moses Brown School in the early 1970s. The purpose of this essay is to relive some of those days from my perspective as a "weight man."
Meeting the Men in Charge
I didn't realize until well after I left Brown in 1974 that Brown's track program had probably reached its nadir during my time there, though I don't think the two were absolutely related. Indeed, even the Brown Alumni Magazine, in its March/April 2005 issue misstated by seven years the departure of the Coach-Ivan Fuqua (The BAM had Fuqua leaving in 1967; infact he retired in 1974). Maybe it just seemed as if there was no coach at the time...
I stopped by the office of Coach Fuqua in Fall 1970; he was a sort of local legend, for he was the only person in Providence who could have legitimately worn an Olympic Gold medal on his neck--he ran the opening leg in a world-record 1600-meter relay in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. The record wasn't broken until 1952. Fuqua, who looked to be in his early 60s at the time, greeted me in a friendly manner and encouraged me to begin my workouts. He also told me that he had secured the services of Ed Flanagan, the 1931 USA Outdoor Track and Field hammer throw champion, to coach the weightmen. Ed came of age when all the great hammer throwers were Irishmen--indeed, the USA champions from 1900 to 1931 reads like a roll call of any St. Patrick's parish: John Flanagan, James Mitchel, Matt McGrath, Con Walsh, Pat Ryan and a few others.
Both Ivan and Ed seemed tired; indeed, once I stepped into the confines of our weight-training facility, Marvel Gymnasium, I could see why. Though legend has it that the gym was named after an early AD at Brown, I think it was so named because it was a marvel that the thing was still standing after 43 years of use. The showers were outmoded; the tiles chipped. Everytime you turned on the hot water, the pipes would begin to clank and clatter as if objecting to the task of dousing another Brown thrower/lifter. Though we actually practiced our throwing and running at the indoor facility at Moses Brown school (why were they better equipped than Brown University?), Marvel Gymnasium was the place we repaired for our weightlifting endeavors. I think Ivan was promised a better facility over the years, but one was not to come until shortly before his death in 1994.
The Weight Men of Brown--1970-72
I don't recall all the guys who worked out at Marvel in those days, but here are a few. Almost everyone was a "thrower," and the occasional middle distance runner or sprinter that wanted to share our space was usually chased out by one of our number fairly quickly. The guy who hefted the most weight was also our best thrower: Doug Price. Doug hailed from Florida and tipped the scales at about 285 pounds in those days, even though the rumor was that he entered Brown at a svelte 210. When he dropped by my room one day for something, he noticed the small poster on my wall where I had clipped a picture of Al Feuerbach and speculated whether Feuerbach's meteoric rise in the shotput in the late 1960s and early 1970s was due to a steady diet of hamburgers and milkshakes or something else. Price laughed nervously as he looked at the picture. Doug worked very hard and had a very respectable shot put of somewhere in the mid-50 foot range.
In those days there was both a freshman/jv and varsity competition, and the best freshman shotputter at Brown in 1970-71 was Leo Ladefian, a Rhode Islander from Chepachet. Leo's best toss was about 45' (mine in that year was about 42'), but he quickly lost interest in the shot after having knee problems. By his junior year he had dropped as many pounds as Price had added and was no longer in the program.
Our hammer throwers were also, with one exception, a product of Rhode Island schools, RI being one of the few states having the hammer throw in high school competitions. Marty Luftman, who seemingly had the shortest arms of any hammer thrower I had seen, and Al Romano, were our RI throwers. One of my favorite guys on the team, Brad Strand, was the third of the troika. Then, in the discus and we had Price and Sam Washington (who also put the shot), the latter from Washington, DC, whose quick delivery was the envy of the other throwers.
Other throwers, runners and friends there were many, but let this suffice to celebrate the memory of some very good days...
I lasted two years in the program, winning one meet (a JV meet at Coxe Cage at Yale in 1972), but mostly just happy enough to place in a meet or two. As with many of the other guys, other interests began to demand more and more of my time, and by 1972 I had said farewll to Marvel Gymnasium and to the track program of Brown. I hoped there would be better days for the team and, indeed, there were. But that is the story for someone else to tell...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long