History of the origins of the River Region Runners (formerly the Montgomery Track and Running Club)
First, there are remembrances by Doug Lindley
My introduction to organized running in Montgomery came in the fall of 1977 when Ed George and I heard there were a group of people holding track meets at Lee high School on Saturday mornings. When we arrived, we found Paul Reeder, Jim Bethea, Burke Wilson, John Grider and a few other die hards in an assortment of spikes, racing flats, tennis shoes and combat boots putting on a very informal track meet. Events were held in the 100, 220, 440, 880 and mile, with all participants from ages 5 to 50 running in the same event (still there were usually no more than 3 to an event). In the 880 and mile we would set the stop watch down and the first runner across the finish line would pick it up and call out the time to the other runners.
By then the Capital City Pacers had evolved into the Montgomery Track Club with Paul Reeder as President. The two most active members were Jim Bethea and Burke Wilson, both of whom annually participated in the AAU National Seniors’ Track Meet. MTC’s primary objective was to sponsor and promote track meets, particularly an annual statewide seniors’ meet.
By then, primarily due to the interest and encouragement of Hulic Ratterree, John Cates, Jim Bethea, Gordon Person, Charlie Lane, Ed George and myself, the Montgomery Track Club began sponsoring an occasional road race at Gunter Industrial Park. Again, these were very informal runs, with 10 to 15 people running either 1 or 2 laps (which we had measured by car to be about 3.2 miles) and the first runner stopping after 1 lap picking up the stop watch and reading out the times to other finishers.
About this time, we began hearing about a group of Air Force personnel who had formed a group called the Central Alabama Road Runners. Under the direction of Jeff and Connie Mangin, CARR was sponsoring weekly road races at Gunter Industrial Park or the Maxwell Soccer field area. Though its races were better organized than MTC’s, with registration fees (would you believe 25¢ for members and 50¢ for non-members), posted race results, and measured courses, races were still small and informal. Most races attracted the same 15-20 runners with the starting time determined by when the last arrival got out of his car with at least one shoe tied.
In late May MTC sponsored its first road race away from the Gunter Industrial Park loop. A 5 mile course and a 1 mile course were set up through the Cloverdale area, beginning and ending at Cloverdale Community Center. We actually measured and marked a course and had race marshals and police escorts. Even though Bill McGee ran the wrong course, running ¼ mile too far and crossing the finish line from the wrong direction, he was declared the 5 mile winner.
After the run, while several of us were sitting around talking, Don Andrews of the Sports Tree suggested that Montgomery needed a well publicized 10K road race. Since Connie Mangin had coordinated some larger races previously in other cities and since we all felt like this might stir a great deal of interest in running in Montgomery, both MTC and CARR agreed to work together with the Sports Tree on this project. Being naive and unabashed we felt only a grandiose name like “The Montgomery Road Race” could encompass the scope of what we were about to undertake.
Joe Mussafer of Montgomery Beverage Company and Schlitz agreed to co-sponsor the race with the Sports Tree. We scheduled the race for the second Saturday in July. We mailed entry forms to track clubs around the state and distributed them to all the Y’s and sporting goods stores in Montgomery. WSFA gave us a good plug the night before the race. Connie Mangin quickly taught me how to handle a finish line for a larger race and I talked all my friends and secretaries into helping me out on race day.
Much to our surprise about 250 runners, including many from Birmingham, Auburn and Troy, showed up to run in 95° heat. The 10K started and finished at the old Sports Tree location in Olde Town Shopping Center. Andy Whitener won the 10K event.
Throughout the summer CARR and MTC continued to work together on races to avoid duplication of races and to increase participation. By the end of the summer both groups were comfortable that the needs of both track and jogging enthusiasts could be better met through one larger club rather than two smaller clubs.
In October, 1978 the Montgomery Track and Central Alabama Road Runners officially merged to form the Montgomery Track and Running Club. Mike McCormack was elected President, Hulic Ratterree Vice-President, Jeff Mangin Secretary and Doug Lindley Treasurer. Since CARR was already a member of the RRCA, their membership was simply transferred to MTRC. John Cates handled incorporating the club as a non-profit corporation and Dick Maddox began editing a greatly improved newsletter.
Early in 1979 MTRC was asked to officially coordinate and co-sponsor its first major road race. This was the Alabama Log Run, the initial event that year of the annual Alabama Forest Festival. The April 21st run attracted 359 entrants with 190 completing the 10K and 143 finishing the 2-mile fun run. Ed Palmer won the 10K on a hilly course in a very fast 30:24. As a matter of fact his time was too fast and we later discovered it was a short course. As for that hill on Pelzer I still hear people cursing about it. Andy Whitener, who finished 2nd in the 10K, won the 2 mile in 10:44.
On June 1, Mike McCormack resigned as President as a result of being transferred to West Germany. Doug Lindley was elected President and Larry Williams Treasurer. On June 12 Burke Wilson began the very successful All-Comers Track Meet program which has continued throughout the last five years. From an initial meet with about 15 participants Burke increased interest to almost 50 participants by the last meet of the ’79 summer. The club also continued to sponsor fun runs on a biweekly basis at Gunter Industrial Park, Maxwell and AUM.
By the end of the summer, as a result of the Alabama Log Run and a greatly increased membership, MTRC was operating in the black. Although our bank balance was small by comparison to 1983, it was no small accomplishment at that time to get the club to a point where Jim, Burke and I were not having to solicit donated Gatorade for each event.
The annual meeting for election of officers was held in January, 1980 at Montgomery Athletic Club. Don Andrews was elected President and the era of co-sponsorship of large road races began for MTRC.
And some historical perspective from Paul Riefberg
When Jim DeBortoli appealed to the club to get more race directors, 1982 maybe? I was the first to stand up and volunteer.
After that, he had me to his home to review all that was needed to direct a race, and then I proceeded to direct 3-Winter Runs 1983-5, and 6-Heritage Museum Runs 1983-88.
Putting up with Bobby Jackson, who knew not a thing about what happens in running races, going to the guy he sent me to for printing, Allstate beverage for coordinating the beer, and so on. Meeting Greg Calhoun at his office (Calhoun Superfoods) to review all the race arrangements and maintain his support. Answering questions to sponsors as to where their logo will be on the T-shirts.
When Johnny from Johnny’s Trophies had a heart attack, part of the team on short notice assembling the trophies he would normally have assembled.
All my articles and race results for the newsletter, lots of work and very enjoyable. Doing the summer track series and getting the medals for that.
Always with my wheel, not to certify, but to authenticate the distance, who wants to run a PR and then learn the course was short?
This happened to me, by the way. My 2:42:38 at the 1977 Long Island Marathon, in my view was short. Right after the finish, quite a number of us agreed it could not be the full distance. At first, I settled on a full mile short and converted the time to 2:49:05. Years later, I inquired and learned the race was uncertified. The winner ran 2:21, and his prior PR was 2:29. My prior PR was 2:48:57 at Jersey Shore. After much communication with those who certify, I got a very well educated, but alas still a guess, the course was 400-800 meters short, and so I now call 2:45:48 my PR, 800 meters short from 2:42:38—although from a certified course standpoint, my PR is 2:47:43 at Huntsville, also in 1977.
Also, I directed the 1984 Alabama Special Olympics Torch Relay, the portion from the Governor’s mansion to the Lee county line.
I volunteered for countless races, and officiated at the indoor meets at Garett Coliseum numerous times.
You remember the times at the Standard Motor Products conference room, several of us going over the labels and coordinating the newsletter bulk mailings.
I had some equipment responsibility, and made the equipment available for races. Meeting Richard Ogle and others when they needed our equipment, keeping everything stocked as needed so race day could go without a hitch.
Here are some recollections spanning from 1980 on as told by former member West Marcus
My association with MTRC began in 1980, when I had begun The Presidents Physical Fitness Program. I ran the 2 mile ‘Lightning Route’ in 17:22. I could not understand the people who did the 10k. I went to my first MTRC meeting right after that and thus have begun a long saga of events, friendships and volunteering.
Jim DeBortoli was the president when I joined and he was also the race director for ‘The Jubilee 10k/ 2m Lighting Route”. Jim became a friend and also was the head of the club for about eight years as I recall, at least the Jubilee Run. Other race directors were ‘The Georges’, George Poulos and George Nelson. I know there were others but I don’t recall them and both Georges remained active for decades.
When I worked my first Jubilee, we had almost 1200 finishers and about 500 in the 2 mile. We handed out finish cards, which were numbered and placed in wooden age division slots. (We still have the boxes) After the event, we all went to the Montgomery Advertiser/ Journal, sat a big table and sorted all 1700 numbered cards and arrived at an overall list, which was then printed in the Sunday edition. We all chipped in and did it in a timely manner. Maybe we were a little slower than a computer, chip system, but we had the ‘overalls’ ready in short order. Every runner looked forward with great anticipation, to read the overall results in the Montgomery Advertiser/ Journal Sunday edition.
The newsletter was a hoot, compared to the current electronic edition, but none the less, anticipated or fussed over. All articles were hand typed upon the old ‘ditto’ papers and run on the ditto machine in the back of Jim DeBortoli’s drug store, ‘Country Club Rexall’. When all the pages were printed, (usually about ten), we had run off hundreds, which were place sequentially on a table and we marched around, till all pages were organized into a newsletter, stapled, folded and ready for mailing. We had about 500 active members at that time and bulk mail was a plus.
This member was not actively involved in the timing and technical aspects of the club for a couple of years, but I learned a lot from George Poulos, George Nelson, and Jim DeBortoli. We did hand tabulation from cards, for years and even used a ‘tick’ sheet for timing, which has still come in handy a couple of times, over the years when the timer stopped. It was later that we started using pull tabs and at one time we used a bar code reader and a Zenith portable computer which weighed 15 lbs. or so. Mary Wisdom was our first computer tabulator and she was reluctant to let any of us learn the program. Bob Harrison was our first club course measurer, and wrote several articles about how to measure a course, leaving out no detail. Some courses still have his initials.
Treasurers I recall were: Joan Dawson, Mike Carroll, Elwood Hintz, West Marcus, and Irene Tyner. One of the very first MTRC Sec. /Tres. Was Ted Kluz, who goes back to 1980. Hardwick Gregg was the first MTRC race director. Please find some of the certificates which we handed to finishers. I recall a run from Montgomery Mall area, where I paid $.50 to run.
Some races I recall are: The Log run, The River Run 10k, Lion’s Run for Sight, Statue of Liberty Run Series, Tortoise and Hare, Lung Assoc. Run, Senior Olympics 10k/5k/ 1m, The Winter Run 10k/2m, Humana 5k/15k, Shakespeare Chase, Friends of Youth 8k/1m AUM ½ Marathon, Bell Rd. YMCA 5k/1m Run, Black Heritage Museum Labor Day 5k/1m, MTRC Summer All-comers Series…….
Presidents of the MTRC from 1980’s are: (1978-Don Andrews, Capitol City Pacers), (Jim Magnum-USAF Central Alabama Road Runners) Jim DeBortoli, Bill Mack, George Poulos, Jim Larkins, John Hamilton, Mike Carroll, Clif Dixon, Peggy McLendon, Jimmy Armstrong, John Sneed, Pat Fossum, Alesa Ryals, Tom Barfield, (2 weeks), Charles Holly (1 month), David Funk, Larry Hooker, West Marcus, Pete Preston.
Oldest continuous runner in the club is Cindy Dodd Cobb. She has the 1979 Jubilee shirt. The oldest active running member is Pat Fossum (Jerry), currently the oldest active runner/ race director is West Marcus (1980). Rodney Burgess and Bill Barry were the only two runners/ members who completed all the Jubilee Runs. Bill died with cancer about the 27th run and Rodney received the only 30-year award. Jim Larkins has been the equipment manager longer than his wife would care to remember. Currently Jim Larkins and West Marcus have worked more races than any other member, as well as having served as officers in the club. Other long-term members are: Jeffrey Vinzant, Alesa Ryals-Hill, Charles Belfield, Donald Causey, Mike Novak, Joann Hlaverty, Charlotte Hopson, and Dick Vaughn.
Elwood Hintz was the oldest club member and also the club Treasurer for four years, before it was learned a Non-profit club treasurer is supposed to serve only two (2) years. Elwood was dedicated to his profession of Auditing for the state, and also to cycling, walking with the Volks March Club and the MTRC. Often Elwood would do several events in one weekend. Elwood had a van which he used to travel and sleep, waiting at times at the starting line, of some event to start. During a vacation trip, he slipped from the top, hit his head and never recovered. Elwood was one of the finest individuals who ever lived and certainly was a positive influence in the club, not to mention individual friendships and family.
More history to follow!