September 9, 2014
DPS Sports Hall of Fame Dinner
By the time you read this column, I may already have been inducted into the Detroit Public Schools Sports Hall of Fame at Bert’s Marketplace on 2727 Russell. If you happen to be reading this before September 13, tickets for that 7:00 p.m. dinner on that date are $50—available at Bert’s. I’m in other athletic halls of fame, but this one is special to me because I’m being inducted for races I ran in high school at Denby more than sixty years ago. Other inductees are Bertha Smiley, George “the Iceman” Gervin, the late Leroy Dues, the late George “Baby” Duncan, Robert Dozier, Debra Walker, Robert Smith, Elbert Richmond, and my old Southeastern student Marchel McGehee.
Ella Willis—the greatest female long distance runner to come out of DPS—belongs in that Hall, too. She should also be in the Michigan Sports Hall. Now 57, Ella wasn’t born yet when I was a world-ranked sprinter at Wayne State and went undefeated competing on the U.S. national team in Europe in the mid-1950s, later running on record-breaking relay teams with the Detroit Track Club. Allan Tellis—my old mile relay teammate at the Penn Relays who succeeded me as head track coach at Pershing—had Ella train with his male distance runners. Girls’ track wasn’t a high school sport until 1975, her junior year. She then set PSL records—and while still at Pershing, she was the first-place woman finisher in the Detroit Free Press 13th Annual Motor City Marathon. Throughout the more-than-fifty-year history of that marathon, Ella was the youngest runner, male or female, to win it, and the record time she set stood for thirty years. She won that prestigious race an amazing four times. Her clockings for that 26-mile distance ranged well under three hours, and she often outran some of the elite male marathoners. She joins old Miller High’s Aaron Gordon (U-M), Olympian Lou Scott of old Eastern (Arizona State), Ronnie Philips of Denby (Illinois), and old Finney’s Ken Howse (Illinois), among elite DPS middle-distance and long-distance-running alumni. And speaking of elites—Mark Smith of Northwestern, an NCAA high jump co-champion at WSU in 1953, also belongs in the Hall, as does Charles Fonville, Miller’s and the University of Michigan’s world record-breaking shot putter.
Over the past century, DPS has been better known for producing champion sprinters. In addition to Olympians John Lewis (old Northeastern and WSU), Eddie Tolan (Cass Tech and U-M), sprinter/long jumper Lorenzo Wright (old Miller and WSU), Otis Davis (old Miller and Oregon), Henry Carr—Northwestern’s great “Gray Ghost” (Arizona State), Darnell Hall (Pershing), and internationalist Marshall Dill (old Northern and MSU) and world 70-yard record-holder Buddy Coleman (old Miller and WSU), my WSU and Detroit Track Club teammates Cliff Hatcher (Central) and sprinter/hurdler “Bullet Billy” Smith (Northwestern) should be in the Hall. So should Jerry Green (Miller and Texas Southern) and sprinter/hurdlers Allan Tolmich (Central and WSU), Paul Jones (Pershing and WSU), Thomas Wilcher (Central and U-M), and Randy Williams (old Cooley and Kentucky State). So should George Wesson of Southeastern (a state 440 champ in a record 49 seconds on cinders), Cooley’s Claude Tiller (U-M), Pershing’s Reggie Bradford (U-M), and Mumford’s Ken Burnley and Homer Heard (U-M and WSU respectively). So should Stan Vinson of old Chadsey (EMU), Eliot Tabron of old Murray-Wright (WSU and MSU), and Bob Wingo of Hamtramck High and WSU (Hamtramck was in the PSL then). So should Lauryn Williams, an Olympic medalist in the women’s 100 meters.
Cliff Hatcher set an incredible mark of 48.8 seconds for the full 440 yards (not the shorter 400 meters) on an archaic dirt track in 1951. Then one of the five fastest times in American high school history, that 48.8 stood as a PSL mark until 1971. Cliff later ran with me and “Bullet Billy” on winning teams at the Penn and Ohio Relays. I’ll be mentioning some of these fabulous speedsters in my five-minute acceptance speech when I’m inducted on Sept. 13.
I hope to see Ella Willis inducted next year, along with others listed here.
An NCAA All-American quarter-miler in 1957, John Telford is also a recent DPS Superintendent. Four of his books are available on Amazon, and his website is www.AlifeontheRUN.com. Contact him at (313)460-8272 or at DrJohnTelfordEdD@aol.com, and hear him at 4:30 Sunday afternoons on NewsTalk1200.