Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Runner: A Drama in One Act

Top Row, Middle: Portrait of the Half-Miler As A Young Man
Caption under photo reads: McMURRAY, GERALD...Varsity Club & track letters...Says "You think so" to Roy...College Entrance..Wants to be an electrician...

The North Tonawanda Public Library is home to a microfilm archive, containing a complete volume of both the Tonawanda Daily News and its successor, the Tonawanda News.  The News is the Paper of Record for the Tonawandas, home to "Sound Off!", a column consisting of the often ranting comments left on the News answering machine; "Kegler's Corner", a compendium of notices from the local bowling alleys; and, of course "Police Beat", dispatches from the mean streets of the Twin Cities, where our brave boys in blue keep order in a World Gone Mad.

(Two side comments about this:  first, one of the truly depressing things about today's North Tonawanda is the dearth of bowling alleys.  Rojek's Lanes on Payne Avenue is long gone.  Deluxe Lanes on Oliver has disappeared, although it appears that a new venture has opened in its place.  Gratwick Lanes, the hole in the wall joint near the old Buffalo Bolt complex has a "For Lease" sign in its window.  Parkside Lanes is abandoned.  Second, on the same page as James Ocean McMurray's obituary, the Tonawanda News ran a story titled, "Motorcycle Cop Is Kept Busy Arresting Speeders", which reports that NT Motorcycle Cop Fred C. Sprenger had that weekend arrested 13 people for violating the city's 30 MPH speed limit, generating to that point $70 in fines, with five people still awaiting trial.  If I know my NT cops, Officer Sprenger dispatched his duties with equal parts Moxie, Grit, and the assistance of the World's Largest Motorcycle Siren.)

My father had been a track runner, that I knew.  I also knew that he ran track while working full-time as a stock boy at the A&P grocery store that used to be at the corner of Manhattan Street and Goundry, and that he spent most of his senior year exhausted and unable to practice.  Other than a white letter sweater and a couple of photos (which I have not been able to track down), that was the only record I had of my father's high school sports career.

Scrolling through decades of North Tonawanda history, I found the story of his star-crossed senior year of track.  Herewith, with no annotations or corrections, is the story, as reported by the Tonawanda News:

May 3, 1957 -- NT VS. LACKAWANNA

The Lumberjacks, looking to gain experience in a hurry before the crucial battles appear, posted five grand slams in the rout....Captain Jerry McMurray won hands down in the 880 with a good 2:20.5 clocking.  McMurray was running alone for most of the distance and was 40 yards ahead of his nearest competitor.  Jim Manth and Larry Drake completed the sweep in this half mile run.

May 8, 1957 -- NTHS Registers 2nd Track Victory While Tonawanda Loses Close Contest

Al Maglisceau's NT Lumberjacks raced to their second straight track victory yesterday while Tonawanda lost a grueling duel at Niagara Falls.  North Tonawanda defeated LaSalle 69 2-3 to 34 1-3 while Coach Paul Fenwick's Warriors were on the short end of a 51-44 score....Captain Jerry McMurray had things his own way with a flashy 2:05 effort in the 880.  McMurray again won handily, showing at least 20 yards daylight in the stretch.

May 15, 1957 -- NTHS VS. TROTT

Unbeaten Jerry McMurray breezed to the best time of his career with a 2:04.9 half mile.  McMurray finished 50 yards in front of his teammate Jim Manth who finished second.

May 22, 1957 -- NTHS Spikers Nip THS

North Tonawanda High School continued its track supremacy over its cross-cit rival yesterday but not without a terrific battle all the way at NTHS Field....Captain Jerry McMurray was an emphatic winner in the half mile with a 2:03.9, his best time ever.  McMurray as usual shook hands with all his opponents and proceeded to run them into the ground.  He won going away...

May 25, 1957 -- Blue Devils Set Two Records In Track Romp Over NTHS

Maybe it's that pure Erie County air, it certainly can't be "pep pills"; but that Kenmore High track team ran like the devil yesterday -- Blue Devil that is....[KHS] handed Jerry McMurray his first 880 loss of the season....The half mile run easily was the outstanding attraction of the meet.  NT's McMurray got off in a hurry with Tim Burns and [Ben] Woodward shooting early for the lead, even at the risk of passing on the turn.  McMurray blazed to a scorching 54 seconds in the first 440 yards but both Burns and Woodward remained at a respectable four yards behind.  It was at the 660 mark that the pattern began changing.  Burns turned it on to take over by a half stride but couldn't get any breathing space from the other two hard-running athletes.  The trio remained bunched in the final 100 when Woodward made a tremendous bid to take over.  McMurray was unable to step up the already swift pace but Burns refused to be shaken off by his team mate.  He matched Woodward stride for stride into the final 30 yards, with Woodward winning by a scant foot.  McMurray was two strides back.  Woodward, a member of the KHS cross country team, is the school's valedictorian.

June 10, 1957 -- Crack Kenmore Track Team Has 9 Scorers Returning

Kenmore High's track team has won the Sectional championship all but three times since 1940.  And, based on none returning point producers from this year's section VI champs, the Blue Devil scoring machine is cranked for years to come.  Kenmore outdistanced nine other Section VI AAA opponents before approximately 500 fans at the Kenmore Junior High track Saturday by scoring 43-1/2 points.  Following the Blue Devils were Amherst, 31-1/2, Olean 23-1/2, Jamestown 20, Trott 10-1/2, North Tonawanda 8, Lockport 3, West Seneca 2 and Niagara Falls and LaSalle 0....A headwind prevented any record-setting Saturday, but there were some tight battles.  One of the best was the 880, won by [Tim] Burns.  North Tonawanda's Jerry McMurray stepped into the lead with half a lap remaining after Kenmore's Ben Woodward had set the pace from the gun.  McMurray had a six-foot lead until the final turn.  Here, Burns and Woodward made their bids and passed McMurray 30 yards from the finish.  Burns edged Woodward by no more than a foot.

[Timothy Burns was inducted to the Kenmore East High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.  North Tonawanda has a Football Hall of Fame, located on Goundry Street, and a Basketball Wall of Fame, located inside the high school, but offers no venue for the acknowledgment of the accomplishments of its soccer, wrestling, swimming, baseball, or track and field athletes.]

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