Track Coach

TC231 Editorial Column

From the Editor – RUSS EBBETS

Records and Records

The New Jersey Turnpike has long been one of the state’s great public relations nightmares since the day it opened to traffic in 1951. The Turnpike is a 117-mile asphalt ribbon running north to south splitting the state in half. When things are moving a two-hour trip will leave you convinced New Jersey begins as a series of nauseating oil refineries; that becomes countless monolithic warehouses, with half the vehicles on the Turnpike tractor trailers the size of small battleships that move at speeds both unreasonable and improper.

What you are not going to see from the Turnpike are the beautiful rolling hills of Northwest New Jersey, the miles and miles of farmland, the eerie Pine Barrens or the Jersey Shore. New Jersey’s eastern shoreline is an 125-mile series of attractive beaches and beach towns that rival anything in America. Almost every Bruce Springsteen album champions some aspect of beach life that the locals cherish.

Speaking of Born To Run (or jump or throw), New Jersey also has a rich track & field history. There was Plainfield’s Milt Campbell who took Olympic decathlon silver as a high school junior in 1952, before taking the gold in 1956. For another, there is Willingboro’s Lewis family. Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl, of course, had a legendary career. And remember that sister Carol held the national indoor high school record in the long jump for 35 years. The Clark family—all-stars at Columbia High School in Maplewood—followed Joetta’s success with a lot more by brother J.J. (now coaching at Stanford) and then sister Hazel. The 2000 USA women’s 800 Olympic team was all-Clark: Hazel, Joetta, and sister-in-law Jearl. Lewis and Clark, imagine that.

Essex Catholic H.S. of Newark was home to Marty Liquori, the #3 prep to break the four-minute mile in high school in 1967. Mike Keogh soon followed and got close to Gerry Lindgren’s records on his way to winning the Golden West as a high school senior. He went on to have a stellar career at Manhattan and ran the 5000 meters for Ireland at the 1972 Olympics. Essex can also boast some great throwers. Coach Tony Naclario once had three 60-footers in the same class. But most agree his “find” had to be the day he caught a kid breaking windows, from a long distance. He convinced Mark Murro to trade the stones for a javelin and soon the national high school and ultimately the American record were his. Murro was one of the few men in the world to top the 300’ mark with the old javelin.

And then there is the small town of Scotch Plains. Scotch Plains is about a third of the way from New York City to Philly on an old stagecoach route. In 1972 Vince Cartier from Scotch Plains ran away from the field at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym, running an indoor mile high school record of 4:06.6.

I distinctly remember the news hitting the track table at Villanova that night. A NYC teammate had the scoop, as Cartier was a close friend. Cartier was the son of a professional middleweight boxer. The race report was pretty simple. Cartier took the lead, separated from the field and never looked back. The 4:06 caused some general concern at the table—would he choose Villanova or Manhattan? Would we be running with him or against him? In the end Cartier went to Florida and had a solid collegiate career. Cartier’s indoor mile high school record, against only high school talent, lasted until 2010, 38 years.

They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place but at Scotch Plains-Fanwood it did. Most would agree that any guy who gets close to 15 seconds in the high hurdles is doing pretty good. If you get down to a low 14 you’re probably state champion material. Break 14 and you’re in the conversation as one of the top guys in the country. Thirteen seconds, 13-seconds? Probably won’t happen, can’t happen. Probably.

But it did. In fact, Renaldo Nehemiah did it three times in one day as a high schooler. The third try proved to be the charm with his high school (hand-timed) record of 12.9. How impossible is that? One needs to be reminded that the “adult” world record for the 110HH was 2/10ths of a second slower for a similar race. Granted, there is a big difference between the 42’s and the 39’s but even the stone deaf could hear this freight train coming.

Nehemiah also ran the 330IH in 35.6, one of the fastest all-time in this event. I’m willing to wager most high school programs don’t have anyone who could do that time on the flat.

There is more to the story—college, Penn Relays, the 49ers but I’ll let Renaldo Nehemiah fill in the details with his interview on “I  Can Do This — An Interview woth Renaldo Nehemiah” article.