Thursday, March 6, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday (March 6, 2014) -- Running Memories

In the late spring of 1970 it was just a little slip of heavy weight paper measuring 1 1/2 by 3 1/4 inches that gained me unexpected contestant admission onto the track in Highland Park, New Jersey. Now it is a faded pastel green ticket with some age stains around the edges, that has become a small treasure carrying with it a host of memories going back to my senior year in high school.

During my junior and senior years in high school I was a runner in track and cross country.  I came to both sports late, but met with some success that surprised me and many of my friends. In my senior year I qualified for the State Cross Country meet along with my varsity teammates.  Unfortunately, I came down with the world's mildest case of mononucleosis and was not only prevented from competing with my team -- my mother, the RN, would not even allow me to attend to watch and cheer on the team.

In the spring of my senior year, I ran track for a second season.  My event was the half mile or 880 yards.  It was then the "880" since the switch to metric measurements was still a few years away when the event became the 800 meters.  By virtue of placing 2nd in the Burlington County Track & Field Championships, I qualified for and ran in the South Jersey Group II Championship Meet.  I finished 3rd and qualified for the State Championships held on the track at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, NJ.  My personal best in the 880 to that time was 2:01. [My 1:59 as the final leg in a sprint medley (100/220/440/880) on a Uniroyal track under the lights on a cool spring night could not be officially counted as a personal best.]

So, in June 1970 I found myself with an admission ticket to the track for the New Jersey State Track & Field Championships.  There were some future national and international stars on the track that day. I was not one of them. One future member of the 1973 NCAA Indoor Track Championship team at Manhattan College, Mike Keogh, was there running the two mile.

Also at the State Meet that June afternoon was a 6 foot 3 inch runner with a smooth, devastating stride. He was one of the premier runners in the country and he ran for Roselle Catholic High School.  His name was Joe Savage and he was a half miler.  There were two preliminary heats in the half mile that day. I drew the same heat as Joe Savage. Joe run a 1:50.2 880 in his senior year of high school. 

I recall nodding at Joe on the line as we got set.  It was the last time I saw the front or the side of him.  He was tall with long blonde hair and he looked as calm as could be.  The gun went off and I watched Joe's back ever so gradually grow smaller and smaller in front of me.  By the mid point of the second lap I could not take my eyes off him as he ran away.  I could only wonder what I was doing on the same track as this guy.  I could easily watch as he won the heat because I crossed the finish line  about ten seconds behind him totally spent.  I was not devastated.  I was in awe.

Joe Savage joined Mike Keogh and other elite high school runners at Manhattan College in the Bronx the following fall and went on to become a very competitive and respected national and world class runner. In 1971, as a freshman at Manhattan, he led the first half-mile in what was called "The Dream Mile."  He led for half the race against Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori! In 1973, Joe was one of the four Manhattan runners who set a world record in the distance medley and helped tiny Manhattan College win the NCAA Indoor Track Championship that same year! 

Mike Keogh of Essex Catholic H.S. edging out Joe Savage
of Roselle Catholic H.S. in the Eastern Mile race (circa 1969-70)

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Photograph by the author of his original 1970 New Jersey State Track and Field Meet contestant's pass. 

Newspaper articles from the personal collection of the author.

Photographs of Mike Keogh on the Highland Park track and edging out Joe Savage as high school students in the Eastern Mile from 

Photograph of Joe Savage in the Golden West 880 from

Photograph of the world record setting Manhattan distance medley team from  

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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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