Friday, July 6, 2012

A Week (Or So) In History

I was born two years after the Beatles split up. The first presidential election in which I voted was the Clinton-Bush-Perot circus. I still have to show an I.D. at bars on occasion (a point of pride). Among those who currently work or have worked for the UC Davis athletics department, I'm still middle of the pack when it comes to my age.

And yet, when any question surfaces about the history of our athletics department -- which finished its 102nd year in existence -- I'll eventually get the call.

Without a doubt, the past eight days sent me digging through the archives more than any similar span except for when I'm fact-checking the annual Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame nominations. A helluva week, without a doubt.

Yesterday, Thursday the 5th, Terry Tumey was announced as the new director of athletics. This culminated an almost year-long process, but it also sent me on an errand to research the complete list of past athletics directors.

That proved to be a tough task, as the actual title of "director of athletics" owns an uncertain history. As far back as 1914, a man named Jimmy Thorburn served as the "physical director" for what is now UC Davis. However, the 1938 edition of El Rodeo listed Irving "Crip" Toomey as being granted the new title of athletics director, a "position worthy of his ability." George Stromgren, who compiled our history into the multiple-volume Mustang Memories, credits Toomey as our first A.D. That's good enough for me.

Thus, the list of those hired as athletics director on a full-time, permanent basis runs as follows:

1938-61: Irving F. "Crip" Toomey
1961-67: Vern Hickey
1967-71: Bill Lakie
1971-84: Joe Singleton
1985-87: Gale Mikles
1989-91: Jim Sochor
1995-2011: Greg Warzecka
2012-present: Terry Tumey

Filling in some of the gaps are several interim directors: Herb Schmalenberger held down the fort in 1972 and 1988, Larry Swanson and Pam Gill-Fisher jointly assumed the role in 1992-93, Dr. Keith Williams guided the department from 1993-95, and Nona Richardson steered the ship during this past school year.

But Toomey to Tumey? No, it is not lost on me that our first athletics director and our new one have, homophonically speaking, the same name.

Without a doubt, when it comes to historic occasions, most UC Davis fans rallied around the amazing successes of distance runner Kim Conley and swimmer Scott Weltz, each of whom qualified for the Olympic Games in their respective sports. Those who somehow haven't seen these moments can do so at the NBC Sports website (links below).

Conley in 5,000M:

Weltz in 200 Breaststroke:

I dare anyone to watch those videos and not feel a little something near the end. I'll admit getting choked up at Conley's reaction when she sees her time on the Hayward Field scoreboard. And it gets dusty in the room during that split second when Weltz' coach, Pete Motekaitis, is shown congratulating his protegé. Motekaitis, who was not allowed on the deck, had to sprint past security to reach Weltz, then sprint back to his seat before he was caught. (Fortunately, Pete is in better shape than most people half his age -- the man can still motor.)

Both races feature astounding comebacks. Weltz was in sixth place at the midway point of the race before storming past the field to set an Olympic Trials record of 2:09.01. Conley was looking at a fifth-place finish with about 120 meters to go before surging past Abbey D'Agostino and Julia Lucas to take third and eclipse the qualifying standard.

When Jim Sochor created the culture now known as "Aggie Pride," he drilled his student-athletes in a simple but powerful motto: never give up when you're behind and play hard when you're ahead.

Yeah, I'd say Scott and Kimmy nailed both parts.

A few people have asked me how many Aggies have gone on to compete in the Olympic Games. This is actually a complicated question to answer, even if you exclude Peter Snell, Debbie Meyer and Cathy Carr, each of whom attended UC Davis after competing on the world stage (the subject of the most recent UC Davis Magazine).

The truth is, I do not know the definitive list because so often a UC Davis alum competes in a different event from his/her Aggie sport. Sure, Colby E. "Babe" Slater won his 1920 and 1924 gold medals in rugby, one of several sports in which he starred in the early days of the University Farm. Linda Somers competed in the marathon at the 1996 games in Atlanta, at least related to her Aggie cross country and track exploits. Of course, Weltz and Conley have made the Olympiad in their chosen UC Davis sports.

But then there is John Powell, who played for the Aggie football team in the mid-1960s. He finished fourth in the discus in Munich (1972) before capturing bronze medals in Montreal (1976) and Los Angeles (1984). He was a member of the Olympic team in 1980 but the U.S. chose to boycott the games in Moscow that year. More recently, we saw Emily Azevedo compete in the bobsled at the 2010 Winter Olympics -- quite a departure from the 100-meter hurdles in which she set a school record.

July 19 Update: in answering some questions loosely related to this blog entry, I discovered I need to give credit to a former Aggie football player named John York, who informed me about Powell earlier this year. Powell only played for the freshman team, so he does not appear on our all-time letterwinners list. He also did not graduate from UC Davis, but rather from San Jose State, so he likely does not appear on the campus's alumni records. I may never have known about him but for York's acquaintance with Powell during that one year and York's kind email back in February.

Tougher still are former UC Davis students who did not compete in an ICA sport. I would not have any records for them, our department would not likely have followed their progress, and yet they would have to be included on an all-time Aggie Olympians list. Perhaps the most famous example of this is skier Jonny Moseley, who briefly attended UC Davis, left school to train full-time, then won a gold medal in moguls at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

As I've said elsewhere, I've enjoyed the media references to both Conley and Weltz as "dark horse" performers given that our mascot is, in fact, a dark horse.

Although both went into their respective Trials as underdogs, Weltz' story has begun to rally particular grass-roots support. Conley has trained for the Olympics as a sponsored pro, receiving financial backing from the Sacramento Running Association plus additional support from New Balance.

In contrast, Weltz' year-plus of training has come at a great personal expense, so much so that the local aquatics community launched an online fundraising campaign to help ease that burden. When the stated target was hit (and surpassed), a second effort arose to fund Motekaitis' trip across the pond. The local swimming guru had not intended to accompany Weltz to London, just as he was unable to join his previous Olympian Haley Cope in Athens.

For information on supporting either Weltz or Coach Motekaitis:
Scott Weltz:
Pete Motekaitis:

Meanwhile, those interested in supporting the Sacramento Running Association can do so by going to The SRA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, among many other things, sponsors a team of elite area runners (like our own Kim Conley).

Scott's time in the 200 breast final set a meet record and vaulted him to No. 5 in the year's world rankings. By now, most Aggie fans have learned these two facts regarding Weltz' race. However, Motekaitis asked longtime assistant coach Rick Henderson - and currently the women's team's administrative assistant - to break down the achievement even further, just to give it even greater magnitude.

Here are just a few nuggets from Henderson's summary:
1. Weltz went from a 2:17 at the start of his training to a 2:14 at the 2011 Summer Nationals almost exactly a year ago to a 2:12.38 at the Winter Nationals last December to a 2:10.90 in the Olympic Trials prelim round a week ago. Then he popped the 2:09.01 in the final to upset Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau.

2. Weltz swam the second 100 of the 200 breast final in 1:05.55. That's a 2.09-second drop from his first 100 (1:03.46). Most world-class breaststroke swimmers will fade by a margin of 3.5 to 5.0 seconds in their second 100. (As a comparison, runner-up Clark Burckle slowed by 5.76 seconds, Shanteau by 4.69 and Hansen by 5.79 in that very race. Japan's Kosuke Kitajima faded by 5.78 when he posted a world-best 2:08.00 earlier this year.)

Henderson concludes that Weltz' second 100 meters may be the fastest in history.

3. Weltz' holds the second-fastest 200 breast in U.S. history by a swimmer in a textile suit, behind Hansen's 2:08.50.

This last factoid may be a tad esoteric to those not familiar with the sport. Until its ban a few years ago, the ultra-slick "speed suit" came into vogue in competitive swimming, shattering previous records. Baseball fans could imagine a scenario in which the MLB allows aluminum bats for a few years, then immediately bans them. Hitting records during that span would have to be evaluated separately from the wood-bat era. Similarly, swim fans rightfully evaluate the speed-suit era separately from the years in which competitors only wore suits made from woven materials.

Finally, no nod to Aggie history could be complete without a mention of Marya Welch, the founder of women's athletics on our campus, who passed away at the age of 95. For more about Dr. Welch's incredible legacy at UC Davis, read here. Oddly, we lost Marya on June 24, one day after the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

You can take any one part of Welch's life and feel humbled by them -- degrees from (count 'em) three prestigious universities, her service in the Navy, her career at UC Davis, her travels in retirement. Pam Gill-Fisher helped me assemble a tribute video that we played at her service on Tuesday. Among the photos was Marya hiking the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. Pam noted that Marya was in her mid-80s in the shot. I thought it was taken in the mid-80s (which means Marya would have been around 70 years old). Either number amazes me.

Another favorite photo from the video was one of Marya and John McEnroe, who attended the dedication ceremonies for the Marya Welch Tennis Center. The two connected immediately. I like to think it was the first time Mac had encountered someone more headstrong than he.

Gill-Fisher plans on organizing another tribute event to Marya Welch in the fall, when school is in full session. I hope every coach and student-athlete can attend -- every person, male or female, who wears the UC Davis colors owes Marya a debt of gratitude for her dedication to our athletics department.

As she said in her address at then-Chancellor Vanderhoef's 2006 convocation, "I believe that sport is really about the way you live. Be well-prepared. Be fair. Respect your competition. And measure your success by goals you set for yourself, not whether you win or lose."

You can be damn sure Marya would have been proud to see what Scott and Kimmy accomplished last week.

She would have said so, too.

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, has already marked the following dates: July 31 (men's 200 breast heats/semis), August 1 (men's 200 breast final), August 7 (women's 5K prelim) and August 10 (women's 5K final). In fact, it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world to schedule a viewing party someplace in town, like the Grad.

1 comment:

  1. Mark - excellent blog - thanks for the great information!