18 November 2011

Sports Talk--Track and My Father

Welcome back. Why did you start sports? I was challenged by my brother. Although my father loved, lived and studied sports, he never got involved beyond conveying his excitement about the game--any game.

Bob Philipson’s scrapbooks.
Permit me to stop rambling about my less than stellar life in sports and devote this post to my father, Robert Philipson. I’ll draw from his scrapbooks, which are approaching antique status, and from stories he would share.

High School Sports
Bob Philipson, captain 
of the UFA track team.
This jump was 4 inches short of 
the state high school record
As the Great Depression was building steam, my father was working part time and graduating high school at the Utica Free Academy, Utica, N.Y. He had led the track team for four years, competing in the 100 yard, 220 yard, mile relay, high jump and broad jump, in which he was one of the best in the state.

Example track meet results: 
record broad jump and 
100 yard dash.
(Utica Observer Dispatch)
Example track meet results: 
record broad jump and 
(photo) losing 100 yard dash
by a questioned hair 
(Utica Observer Dispatch)

His speed not his size (5 ft-8 in, 140 pounds) was responsible for an honorary mention on the Central New York All-Scholastic Football Team.
The “Rabbit” played 
high school football 
for three years.
College Sports

Coach Yavitts (kneeling) and Ithaca College
track team, 1930-31.
In 1930, he was the first and last of his family (parents plus eight) to enter college, the Ithaca School of Physical Education, which became Ithaca College that year. It’s unclear where tuition came from, whether scholarships or the multiple jobs he worked; but he could never bring himself to eat bologna again.

He set IC records in the 100 yard and 220 yard sprints and was one of only two athletes Coach Yavitts chose to represent the school at the Penn Relay.

In addition to track, he dabbled in soccer, baseball and gymnastics, and played freshman basketball, being a leading scorer as a forward. Those were the days of 2-hand set and underhand shots and not a lot of baskets. For example, they defeated the Alfred Aggies, 22 to 16; he scored 8 points.

Example Syracuse University track meet results: 
record and winning broad jumps.
After his freshman year, he transferred to Syracuse University. To pay his way, he worked in a few fraternities and as assistant coach of the freshman football team, manager of intramural track, and intramural sports referee.

Coach Keane and Syracuse track team 
members selected for 1932 IC4A event.
 (Syracuse Post Standard)
The scrapbooks are filled with newspaper clippings of him winning, placing and setting meet records in sprints and broad jump, yet he only talked about one meet--the 1932 Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America, held in Berkeley, California. Athletes who placed in the top three in IC4A events would automatically compete in the semifinals of the 10th Summer Olympics tryouts, which would open later that month in Los Angeles.
Feature articles 
appeared on each 
Syracuse trackman
 selected for 1932 
IC4A meet. 
(Syracuse Journal, 
Hometown newspaper highlighted 
his selection for IC4A meet.
(Utica Observer Dispatch, 

He never described that IC4A competition. No need. The team got sick on the train ride from New York to California and flopped. He would sometimes mention the team getting arrested—something about tossing beer bottles after their unhappy performance.

He often recalled competing against Jesse Owens, joking that Owens ran so fast because my father was chasing him. He would describe in awe Owens leaping over the sand pit on a record-breaking long jump. That might have occurred at the 1934 IC4A Championships at Madison Square Garden, when Owens bettered the long-jump world record by about 8 inches, some 2 feet better than my father’s personal best.

In his senior year at Syracuse, he coached track at a local high school. After graduating, he organized and for a year coached a freshman basketball team, winning Utica’s junior championship.

Despite his background, he could never find a permanent coaching job, which presumably was why he encouraged my brother and me to excel in academics not sports. (My brother did both.)

I got a chance to see him run once. As our family was walking down the street, my father, who hadn’t run in at least 25 years, and my teenage brother decided to race half a block. They finished very close together. I can’t remember how long my father was laid up.

Wrap Up

What is most appealing to me about my father’s scrapbooks is the space devoted to other athletes. Pages are carefully laid out and annotated for teammates, those he’d be competing against, and others he respected or wished to emulate.

He was a pretty good athlete, a very special father, and I bet he would have been a phenomenal coach.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again in about a week. Shall we go abroad?

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