Origins of the
Runners’ Club of Greater Cincinnati
Origins of the Clifton Track Club
By Mike Boylan, Founding Father
(Originally printed in the newsletter in January 1995)
Don Connolly (Indian Hill), Bob Roncker (Elder), and me (Roger Bacon) were all contemporaries in the local high school cross country and track scene during the late ’60s and early ’70s, before the “running boom” and the personal fitness movement began. We each dropped out of the coaching scene at various points, but kept our contacts with the running sports. By the mid-70s, Frank Shorter had inspired us all with his Olympic Marathon win, and the running scene was blossoming everywhere. In June 1976, Don was selling New Balance shoes out of his basement; Bob had returned from a stint with Runners World in California; and I was studying for the state bar exam for wannabe attorneys. I couldn’t make it one mile to Clifton School. The Clifton Track Club was born, humbly, with a notice on the bulletin board in the window of the Clifton Town Meeting office on Ludlow Avenue:
Running Partners for 1 — 3 mile runs,
8:00 — 10:00/ mile pace.
By September, there was a “network” of about 40 runners. By November, we had a club name, “Clifton Track Club and Joggers Association”; had started monthly meetings in the basement of the First National Bank at Ludlow and Whitfield; and had announced our formation at the 1976 Elks Club Thanksgiving Day Race. The early newsletters were no more than an updated runners directory.
In 1976, the only local road race was the Elks Thanksgiving Day Race, a loosely organized affair that began at St. Luke’s Hospital in Ft. Thomas and ended at the Elks Lodge on Central Parkway, very close to the start of the 14-K race. Don Wahle, who is still actively running and plugging races, used the modest proceeds to finance a summer track series at the new all-weather track at Reading High School. There was also a Labor Day cross country race, held on the site of the former NIOSH facility on Ridge Road; but that was about it for the running scene in Cincinnati outside of the high schools and colleges.
The Clifton Track Club first came into prominence on Memorial Day 1977- a date that will live in local infamy more as the “day after” the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire than the first CTC race.
We knew very little about race promotion and procedures at that point. I had put on several big track and cross country meets in my days as a coach at Roger bacon, and I featured myself as a good organizer. Ha!
The 1977 course (brainchild of myself and Bob MacVeigh) started in Mt. Storm, and plunged down Lafayette Avenue to McAlpin on the first half mile. The balance of the 3-mile course was mostly a continuous climb: up McAlpin, then up Middleton short hill, looping back around to the school, then up Middleton Hill to Lafayette. The course did not end in the park, but on the old hockey field of Notre Dame Academy – now the development of trendy homes just outside the park.
We started the race at 11:00 a.m., and it was hot and humid. We had 500 runners, which was about 300 more runners than had appeared for the Thanksgiving Day Race in 1976. We were not prepared for that many finishers. Our finish system consisted of three chutes. Each runner had a paper mailing label held on his or her shirt with a paper clip. The idea was to remove the label and put it on a cardboard finish grid at the end of the chute. This system worked great on cold days with a relatively small field of cross country runners. The labels disintegrated and could not be removed and put onto any surface, so we had to write each runner’s name onto the board.
With 500 runners waiting in chutes to get out, one at a time, this took quite some time. The runners were standing in the sun at noon, and we had no water, no emergency vehicle, and one very worried nurse. Unbelievably, only one person fainted, no one knew enough to complain, and we somehow figured out the winners in several age groups. Duane Gaston from UK and Lexington blitzed the field to win the first race. I mistook Sophia McAllister for the winner of the women’s 20-27 division.
The t-shirts were pretty conventional, but the race director (me) ordered each size in a different color – white, navy, orange. Everyone wanted their size in the color they didn’t get.
The Club made a lot of money from its early races, for several reasons. We didn’t have the expense of porta johns, emergency personnel and vehicles, water, refreshments, printed results, tents, fancy awards, and didn’t have to pay for police protection on the course. T-shirt costs were very low, and everyone wanted a shirt as a badge of participation and status. Race proceeds were used to subsidize travel expenses for better runners and the newsletter publication and mailing costs. Consequently, the Club’s dues were nominal in the early days.
The first membership secretary of the club was Sally Doyen, a beautiful and persistent runner who would mail out the newsletter and keep the dues. There were no officers, elections, by-laws or structure. The Club met monthly, and there was great enthusiasm and interest in the monthly meeting, with upwards of 200 at some. We outgrew the bank basement quickly, and by 1979 were meeting at the new Clifton Recreation Center.
There were discussions from the beginning about changing the name of the Clifton Track Club to something less provincial. We went through three logo changes in the early years. Mort Libby of LPK graphics gave us a hip contemporary logo; then Mark McKillip came up with what I call the “letters in motion” logo, well before the 1984 Olympic “stars in motion.” In the McKillip logo, Cincinnati was given equal size with the club name, and this satisfied many; but the controversy about a better Club name continues to this day.
Prominent names in the early history of the Club include Pat and Maize Harrell; Bob MacVeigh; Lee and Delores Hildebrandt (Lee was running Long Slow Distance (LSD) long before the running boom, and is easily the dean of age group competitors in Cincinnati); Sophia McAllister; David Nelson (long-time newsletter editor); Tom Grogan; Pete Looney; David Lyman; John Frick; Dr. Henry Ryder; and Tom Blumer.
Our first elected presidents were Dennis Sweeney and Melany Stinson. Under their leadership, the Club flourished and grew in unprecedented ways.