By Ken Stone
Last week, 1976 Olympic long jump champion Arnie Robinson was profiled in The San Diego Union-Tribune — how the San Diego State great survived a horrific car crash and brain tumor.
Not mentioned: The Aztecs in 1992 axed the men’s track and field team that produced Robinson and fellow gold medalist Willie Steele, who won the 1948 Olympic long jump title in London.
Now efforts are under way to revive men’s track on Montezuma Mesa. (Only women run track now on the Sports Deck topping a campus parking garage.)
San Diego State alumnus Paul Greer — school record-holder in the 1500 meters who went on to run a sub-4-minute mile in 1989 — is leading what he calls the SDSU Reinstatement Committee.Greer is hoping to replicate the success of San Jose State University, which restored its fabled men’s track team this year after a 32-year absence.
He’s reaching out to alumni, former coaches and others in the sport, gauging their interest — and willingness to pony up money to underwrite a program for a few years. (He points people to a Google Doc query form.)
The longtime educator and San Diego Track Club coach is backed by a who’s who of SDSU track, including All-American Renee Ross, financier Matt Large, Rich Kritzer, Dixon Farmer (SDSU men’s coach 1980-88), Jim Cerveny (1988-1992), famed coach Bob Larsen (who competed for SDSU in the 1960s) and two-time Olympian Sheila Burrell (current SDSU women’s track coach).
“I’m going to go to [SDSU officials] and say, “Look, here is what we have. We have this support. It’s going to be for men’s track and field program, so you cannot ignore that because the community has spoken,” Greer said.
He said his group had a “very productive meeting” last spring with football coach Rocky Long. Greer also met with Assistant Athletic Director Steve Schnall and “received great feedback from him especially with respect to Title IX issues.”
Still ahead are meetings with Athletic Director John Wicker, when Greer plans to share results of the survey.
“We contacted [former] San Jose State coach Jeff Petersmeyer, who shared with us on how San Jose State reinstated their men’s … program, and if they did it than we can do it, too,” Greer said.
Greer said San Jose State — which won an NCAA track title a year after its star sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos made the iconic black-power salutes at the 1968 Mexico City Games — has similar student demographics as SDSU, “and they have a football team, too.”
“Title IX made it difficult to bring their program back,” Greer said of the federal law that bans sex discrimination in education and mandates equal treatment of men’s and women’s sports.
Greer is seeking pledges of hundreds of thousands of dollars, including enough money to field a team its first year ($125,000 for a men’s head coach and travel budget).
The second year, SDSU would bear 25 percent of costs and the third year 50 percent, under one scenario.
“We would propose a phase-out program whereby the first year our community would provide full funding for the men’s track and field program,” Greer said this week. “The second year we would provide everything but salaries and expect SDSU to cover that expense.”
The third year, donors would provide equipment expenses, but SDSU would cover salaries and travel, he said. And the fourth year SDSU would cover everything and fully reinstate the men’s program.
“The community can support it to some extent until [SDSU is] ready to take it over … within three or four years,” he said. “That’s fair. We’re not going to take people’s good money (for SDSU) to cancel it. … It’s a two-way street.”
The reinstatement team notes that San Diego State’s men’s track program dates to 1922 — and its first coach, Charles E. “Pete” Peterson, is the namesake of Peterson Gym on campus.
“Over the years, the men’s program drew heavily on the local hotbed of San Diego high school track and field talent, which still exists today,” says a mission statement.
And many coaches on the local level are SDSU alumni. (More than 100 coaches who once competed for SDSU are being targeted for support.)
“We believe and hope you agree that having a track and field program would help your recruiting that would benefit the SDSU football program,” a pitch says.
It notes that many collegiate programs offer scholarships to dual-sport athletes.
San Jose State offers five or six scholarships to football players who also compete in track, Greer’s team says.
But Greer’s group is confident at least 15-20 athletes can be recruited as walk-ons for SDSU men’s track. Aztec football players would add numbers.
“What’s amazing is that when you look at who has been and is coaching track at the local universities, junior colleges, high schools and Clubs, it is male (and now female) alumni from the San Diego State program,” a statement says. “The program truly gives back ‘in kind’ to community.”
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