How It All Began
By Harold Canfield
The Knoxville Track Club presently has nearly 2000 members and we are
probably in the most successful years of our existence. We have much to
be proud of and should feel blessed with all we have going for us. Since
the early days of 1962, the club has come a long way. Many of our newer
members may wonder how and when the KTC got its start and who was there
at the very beginning.
The birth of the Knoxville Track Club took place in 1962, although we
really didn't become organized until a year later. In the spring of 1962,
eight track enthusiasts met at the home of B. E. Sharp, track coach at
Fulton High School at that time, to organize a team for track competition
in AAU summer meets in the Southeast. Those charter members of the KTC
in attendance at that first meeting were Dr. Ben Plotnicki, Charlie Durham,
Hal Canfield, Jerry Wrinkle, Sam Venable, Charles Lobetti, Coppley Vickers
and B. E. Sharp.
We set up a practice schedule three evenings a week on the old East High
School track and invited any male track athlete to try out for the team.
Of course, in those days there was no track and field activity for women
except for Ed Temple's girls at Tennessee State University. In order to
make a trip to Furman University late that spring to compete in an open
AAU meet, we contacted Tom Siler, sports editor of the Knoxville News-Sentinel,
who agreed to contact "friends" to contribute to the cause.
He raised enough money to pay for food and gas for three carloads of runners
to drive to Carolina to compete. We took some twenty athletes and came
home with the first place team trophy. That was the beginning of the Knoxville
Track Club's competitive activities.
Early in 1963, the University of Tennessee hired Chuck Rohe as track
coach from Furman University and, even before he began his UT duties,
he helped the club stage its first open track meet at Evans-Collins field
in East Knoxville. As the year progressed the nucleus of the club members,
numbering about 5 or 6, began to hold weekly meetings with Coach Rohe
as our inspirational leader. By the end of the year we were a charter
organization with a set of bylaws. At the beginning of the following year
the KTC had grown to fifty-two members and we had a bank account of $156.00.
Our first slate of officers included myself as president, Jerry Wrinkle,
secretary-treasurer, Charlie Durham, program director and coach and Chuck
Rohe as executive director. It was during this period that such track
enthusiasts as Bobby and Herb Neff, N. 0. Vickers, Kim Koffman of Kingsport,
and Al Rovere became affiliated with the club.
In the fall of 1963, the KTC began its long distance running program,
which included a regular schedule of high school cross country meets set
up for all TSSAA affiliated schools in East Tennessee. A series of four
meets were held in that first year with an average field of 30 to 35 runners
from four or five local schools participating. I was the logical choice
to head up this program, due to my experience in distance running. I also
began a series of road races, operating on no budget at all, for primarily
open athletes but including any others who wished to compete. The first
such event took place on the U.T. Agricultural College campus. We laid
out a double loop 10,000 meter cross country course and eight five man
In the early days, many of the KTC's long distance running races were
run on a fine five mile loop course on Cherokee Boulevard. This year-round
program of road races was the only one of its kind between Washington,
D.C and New Orleans and preceded other road race activities in the southeastern
United States. Founders and organizers of such clubs as Atlanta, Chattanooga,
Huntsville, Birmingham and Nashville received their initiation into the
sport from participation in Knoxville Track Club competitions.
The first "big" road race sponsored by the Knoxville Track
Club was a ten-miler at Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountain National Park.
This annual competition continued from 1966 through 1976 and saw many
of the country's finest distance runners among its lists of entrants.
That first race included a total of 78 runners from eleven different states
and began a series that was rated with the finest competitions in the
The first full marathon to be held in Tennessee took place in 1974 over
a course that began and finished on the Knoxville Central High School
track. This was the birth of the annual Smoky Mountain Marathon. The first
running of this competition included a total of fourteen runners. The
race record of 2:19:21 was set by Kerry Ragg of New Zealand in the 1979
running. This performance still stands today.
During the early years of road racing in Knoxville Track Club events,
a total of three national records were achieved. In January 1972, Neal
Cusack, who went on to become a Boston Marathon winner, ran a fifteen
mile time of 76:08 over the Cherokee Boulevard course. In May of 1976,
Bill Haviland set a national record in the one-hour run for maximum distance
by covering 12 miles, 148 yards in the sixty minute time allowance. In
1966, Earl Eblen, then a resident of Huntsville, Alabama, set a new 20
kilometer U.S. record by covering 12.42 miles on Cherokee Boulevard in
65:52. At that time, Eblen held the U.S. citizen's record for 15 miles
and 25 kilometers and was one of the finest runners to compete in local
Turning to KTC activities on the track, in 1963 Charles Durham and Jerry
Wrinkle co-directed the first Southern high School championships, later
to become the Vol Track Classic, which is to this day one of the premier
high school meets in the South. We also directed numerous Junior Olympic,
AAU and open regional and national championship meets throughout the early
years of our existence. In order to successfully conduct these competitions,
the KTC formed a track officials association in the middle 1960's, which
has grown and improved in numbers and quality of performance to the point
where today we have one of the finest group of officials in the country.
Many of our officials work the biggest and most prestigious competitions
in the United States including the Pan American and Olympic Games.
The old saying "from little acorns giant oak trees grow" certainly
is applicable to the development of the Knoxville Track Club, which celebrates
its 50th birthday in 2012. To those newcomers, it would be well to remember
not only our present growth but the struggles of a very few people with
very limited funds over these years to bring our present successes to