As a ripe collegiate track prospect at Cardinal Dougherty High School weighing his potential Division I opportunities, Paul Hines never really had a choice.
Growing up in the Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, Hines went to school and ran with Jack “The Saint” St. Clair’s children, and saw the coach frequently during services at Holy Angels Parish in the city.
“He would take the collection in Sunday mass,” Hines recalled. “He’d whack me in the chest as he went by and say, ‘You’re coming to Temple.’”
Hines wound up running for the man he’d known for the better part of a decade starting in 1972.
Now a longtime track coach for the boys’ and girls’ teams at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, Hines occasionally looks back on what panned out as a productive career at Temple.
His accolades include a career-best four-minute, 10-second time in the mile, and being part of Temple’s 1974 distance medley relay that at one time held the school record.
Now coaching the sport in which he once made his niche, Hines has watched his former schools – and teams – drop by the wayside.
His high school, Cardinal Dougherty, shut its doors in the Spring 2010. So did his former elementary school. The school in which he’s nestled a comfortable track coaching career, formerly Chestnut Hill Academy, is now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy as the result of a merge.
All were changes made within a few years. All occurred before the hammer dropped a few months ago in December in the form of an announcement that seven sports were set to be eliminated from Temple’s athletic department.
While the Board of Trustees reversed a portion of its decision in February when it reinstated the crew and rowing teams, five sports remain on the chopping block, including men’s indoor and outdoor track & field.
“My past is disappearing,” Hines said. “My initial reaction when it happened was not favorable. To keep a track program alive and running doesn’t cost that much money.”
As is the case with every program affected by the cuts, men’s track & field has its share of history and stories – some frequenly talked about today, others lost in time.
Jesse Owens’ longtime rival, Eulace Peacock, donned the Temple ‘T’ across his chest. Bill Cosby once attended the university on scholarship to compete in track as his primary sport, not football.
Temple track & field enjoyed the guidance of a full-time coach for the first time in 2004, 18 years after the loss of its cross country program.
And while cross country was reinstated in 2005 and will continue, men’s indoor and outdoor track & field will bow out as a Division I program for the final time on July 1.
Faster Than ‘The Bullet’
The men’s track and cross country teams joined Temple’s varsity palate in 1925, when Bert Barron guided the programs from its inauguration until 1927.
After Max Younger had a taste of coaching the team until Spring 1928, the program discovered its first Hall of Fame coach when Ben Ogden was brought in, kicking off what would be a 30-year coaching tenure as the cross country and men’s track coach.
One of Ogden’s feats as the Owls’ coach came by drawing in a young wunderkind athlete by the name of Eulace Peacock in 1933.
Peacock tied the world record in the 100-meter dash at 10.3 seconds in 1934. He would later beat the man who would quickly become the country’s most celebrated track star.
As Peacock flourished in a Temple uniform, an up-and-coming collegiate star at Ohio State, Jesse Owens, had already made a name for himself by tying the 100-yard dash record of 9.4 seconds.
With the “Buckeye Bullet” fresh off of winning four NCAA championships in 1935, it made Peacock’s victory in the 100-yard dash at the Amateur Athletic Union Championships that year all the more surprising, as he beat Owens and Marquette University’s Ralph Metcalfe, a prestigious athlete in his own right.
From 1935 up until the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the trio stood out as the best the country had to offer in track & field. Peacock defeated Owens and Metcalfe a few times in that span, and was known as the fastest human on the planet for a brief period of time.
However, a sprinter’s hamstring is his accelerator. And when Peacock first pulled his in Milan with Team USA in 1935, it kicked off a string of nagging hamstring issues that would permanently hamper the career of Temple’s young superstar.
Peacock later tore the hamstring at the 1936 Penn Relays, and failed to return to form in each of his three later attempts while trying to qualify for the 1936 Olympics.
This left Owens clear to qualify for the games, and his legend flourished that summer in Nazi Germany.
While Peacock was left to become a major “what if?” in the years to follow, he remains a prominent figure in Temple track history and still holds the school’s long jump record at 26 feet, 3 inches.
Limited Resources, New Rise
After Ogden bowed out as a 30-year Hall of Fame track coach at Temple, his assistant, Gavin White Jr., took over the head coaching reigns.
The team was thin and limited in resources when White took over in 1958.
So White improvised.
Having decided to look at Temple’s other athletic programs for athletes to compete for the team in their respective offseasons, White quickly discovered an abundance of options.
One such find occurred when he decided to pay a visit to the gymnastics team during a practice.
“I’ll never forget this,” White said. “I went to the gymnastics team, asked them if they ever pole vaulted before and every damn kid raised their hand.”
Also delving into basketball and football for throwing options, White began building a more balanced team that eventually regained its respectability.
Hillel Levinson (200-meter) and Jim Zaffarano still hold school records from 1960 and 1964, respectively.
The Saint Cometh
When White left the coaching ranks in 1967 to embark on a 21-year stint as Temple’s athletic director, the team had quality and a few individual standouts.
What it would soon have, however, was an old-fashioned coach, even for the time.
Jack St. Clair took over the reigns of Temple’s program after guiding Cardinal Dougherty to eight Philadelphia Catholic League and city championships in 13 seasons.
Referred to as “Saint” by many of his runners, St. Clair helped build a team that could compete at the regional and, on occasion, the national level.
“To a lot of guys, he was a father figure,” Hines said. “Sometimes with fathers, it’s a love-hate relationship.”
“But guys that went to Temple still talk about him,” Hines added. “Those of us who ran at Temple and Dougherty, we get together and we like to tell stories about him.”
Upon the start of a new decade, St. Clair’s Owls featured a versatile standout by the name of Jim Elwell.
A utility runner, Elwell has his name etched on the outdoor record book for three events – the 110-meter hurdles (1971), the 400-meter hurdles (1971) and as part of a 400-meter hurdle shuttle relay in 1972.
One of the final achievements of the St. Clair era came in Spring 1971, when Elwell teamed up with Scott Poole, Nick Cordasco and Doug Scott in the distance medley relay to advance to the NCAA final, weeks after winning the MAC Championship in the event.
The quartet each earned honors as the first All-Americans in the team’s history.
Half A Team
The success of St. Clair’s teams followed into the George Alexander era upon St. Clair’s retirement in 1983.
Alexander had been the women’s coach since 1977, and gained control of both programs when he became the men’s head coach after St. Clair’s departure.
Alexander oversaw George Steinbronn’s record-setting tear in 1984. Steinbronn still owns records in the indoor 1,500-meter, as well as the outdoor 1,500-meter and the DMR along with Wilson, McGovern and Linwood.
Steinbronn also competed in the 1984 NCAA Championships in the 1,500-meter.
Unbeknownst to the team at that point, Temple President Peter Liacouras and newly appointed Athletic Director Charlie Theokas were finalizing a recommendation that had been in the works since the year Steinbronn erupted in 1984.
The final plan, passed with a stamp of approval by the Board of Trustees on May 13, 1986, placed eight varsity sports on the chopping block, including men’s and women’s cross country.
The decision devastated the team in its wake, and prevented any significant distance talent arriving at the university for the better part of 25 years.
The team became more sprint and jump focused, though middle-distance runner Elliot Gaskins rewrote the record book three times in 1994.
“I was perplexed as to why they would drop that sport because it’s not a costly venture,” said Bill Bradshaw, Temple’s athletic director from 2002 to 2013. “If you look at a roster on indoor and outdoor track, there are a lot of distance runners and when you don’t have cross country, you’re limiting that area of track to score points in.”
When a young Stefanie Scalessa was hired to take over the men’s and women’s programs in 2004, she became the first woman to coach a men’s team at Temple in its history.
And she did it under rather strenuous circumstances, taking over a men’s team devoid of numbers, depth, talent and funds, among other necessities.
“I want to say there were probably about 20 men on the team when I started,” Scalessa said. “It was a pretty small team. There were some strong kids individually, but as a team, we had absolutely no traction.”
Scalessa said her predecessor, George Phillips, who coached from 1999 to 2004, had petitioned to reinstate the cross country programs for both the men and women.
When Scalessa arrived at Temple, she had an athletic director in Bradshaw who had already taken interest in the issue, and was willing to take action.
Cross country is the school’s least expensive varsity sport, which made the process and eventual approval easier on part of the president and the Board of Trustees of reinstating the program.
Cross country returned in Fall 2005, and it had its own coach within two years with the hiring of distance coach Matt Jelley.
The Final Years
In conjunction with Eric Mobley succeeding Scalessa as head coach in 2008, the program experienced much of the success envisioned when cross country was reinstated.
The team kicked off a five-year string of Top 4 finishes in the outdoor Atlantic 10 Conference Championships in 2009. In 2010, the men finished second in the A-10 meet, its highest ever finish in the conference.
The men won three individual titles in the meet that year, while that number doubled in the next.
Thrower Bob Keogh and distance runner Travis Mahoney earned All-American honors in 2011, the first to do so since Gaskins in 1993.
Mahoney, the most decorated distance runner in the team’s history, had his big break that year in taking the All-American honors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase as a junior.
He has five Temple records to his name.
“Things were turned around for us when I was a senior,” Mahoney said. “We had a couple of great 800 [meter] runners and it definitely seemed to become a more distance, middle-distance oriented program. We were doing great.”
Heading into this year, a revamped assistant coaching corps featuring the full-time additions of James Snyder, Aaron Watson, Tamara Burns and Marquise Stancil was one aspect addressed by a new initiative on the part of the athletic administration to invest in the program.
Such a recent investment in the program added to the track & field team’s shock at its inclusion in the list of varsity sports set to be terminated on July 1.
“I’ll never be at peace with it,” Mobley said. “I’ll never be at peace with a decision to cut any track & field program, but it’s something that’s out of my control.”
“I’m upset because without it, there is no Eulace Peacock,” Mobley added. “Had I been a student-athlete here, there is no Eric Mobley. I’m just upset at the opportunities that have been taken away from these young men.”
Mahoney, 23, is now flourishing with the New Jersey/New York Track Club and he is distancing himself from the institution that helped him get there.
“I feel betrayed,” Mahoney said. “It’s tough because I’m running for this team now and a lot of the kids on my team went to very good athletic programs, and they’re proud of it. Honestly, I’m not proud of it anymore. Once they cut the program, I don’t want to be affiliated with Temple anymore.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.