Club History

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 teams competed.

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 United States.

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 events.

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 fruition.