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Bev Kearney Headlines Latest Class Inducted into USTFCCCA Hall of Fame
by Bob Burns, USTFCCCA
December 20, 2007

PHOENIX – There were tears shed at Tuesday night’s USTFCCCA Hall of Fame induction dinner, but they were quickly washed away by smiles and laughter.

In accepting the award on behalf of her late husband, Tom Jones, Sandy Jones told an attentive crowd of 750 a story about how one of Tom’s friends visited him in his final days. The friend asked Tom if there were any special prayer he could offer.

“Just pray that I can coach again,’” Tom Jones told the friend.

With her husband’s Hall of Fame medallion draped around her neck, Sandy Jones smiled through the tears and offered another wish.

“Please remember Tom tonight by having a drink and telling track stories,” she said. “Thank you so much from a coach’s wife.”

Joining Jones in the Hall of Fame Class of 2007 were Lew Hartzog, Cyrus Jones, John Mitchell, Irv Mondschein, Jim Sackett and Karl Schlademan. The induction dinner was held at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge as part of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s annual convention.

“This is magnificent,” Mitchell said of the festive atmosphere surrounding Tuesday’s dinner. “I’m just a track guy. I feel like I’m at a football coaches’ event.”

Another emotional moment came when Kearney, the accomplished University of Texas coach, accepted her award. One of her presenters was Michelle Freeman, an Olympic hurdler who was in a 2002 automobile crash with Kearney. Freeman’s mother was killed in the accident, and Kearney suffered injuries that left her debilitated.

“I’ve never had to make a speech in front of a group this large,” Freeman said. “But I told myself that if I can read at my mother’s funeral, I can do this for Bev.”

After hugging Freeman and her other presenter, Cynthea Rhodes-Patterson, Kearney delighted the crowd with a tale of how, during her first coaching job at Toledo, she once piled a group of relay runners in a car and hit the road for a last-chance qualifying meet at Penn.

The five women slept in the car and ate dinner at a gas station. Kearney and the runners arrived at the stadium in Philadelphia and saw it was locked. It was then that she realized the meet was being held at Penn State.

“Nobody ever told me about a school called Penn State,” Kearney said. “As we were driving back to Ohio, I told my girls that I’d spring for dinner at McDonald’s if they’d let me tell my athletic director that they hadn’t run fast enough to qualify.”

In leading Florida to the NCAA indoor championship in 1992, Kearney became the first female African American coach to win a Division I title in any sport. Kearney has won six NCAA team titles and 19 conference titles at Texas, and her inspiring recovery from the injuries suffered in the automobile accident was the subject of an HBO story.

Kearney concluded her self-deprecating remarks by thanking several other Hall of Fame coaches, including Leroy Walker, the venerable North Carolina Central coach.

“Dr. Walker once told me something I’ll never forget,” Kearney said. “He said all success is achieved through the efforts of others. I hope my career exemplifies that.”

Tom Jones served as the head track and field coach at North Carolina State, UTEP, Arizona State and Florida. At North Carolina State, Jones guided the Wolfpack to back-to-back AIAW women’s cross country championships in 1979-80.

“He would be so pleased and proud to be a part of this group,” Sandy Jones said. “He’d want to thank his colleagues. There was nothing Tom liked more than being at a track meet, talking track with other coaches.”

Tom Jones received his first assistant’s job from Mitchell at Alabama. Mitchell was the head coach at Alabama from 1969 to 1986 and at Georgia from 1989 to 1999.

“There are a lot of great coaches, coaches who can take a 4:20 high school miler and get him down to 4:10,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t that kind of coach. I recruited the 4:10 kid and got him down to 4:09.

“And my kid would always beat that other kid,” Mitchell said, drawing a big laugh from the audience.

Cyrus Jones has led Lincoln to 17 NCAA Division III championships during his 33 years at the Pennsylvania school.

“When I look at a large tree, I see the roots supporting that tree,” Jones said. “I’d like to thank my parents. Even though I was raised in poverty, they made me feel rich. And I want to thank my athletes. They’re the ones who brought me this distinction.”

Sackett coached 38 seasons at Western Illinois and Cal Poly Pomona before retiring this year. He led Cal Poly Pomona to the 1983 NCAA Division II men’s cross country title.

“This is a humbling experience,” Sackett said. “I’d like to thank my wife for raising our children. It takes a special woman to be married to a track coach, because they can’t plan on going to the symphony or the theater. There’s no time.”

Mondschein, an Olympic decathlete and longtime coach at Penn, was unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony due to doctor’s orders. Accepting on his behalf was his coaching son, Brian.

“Many of you probably know my father for his profanity and jokes,” Brian Mondschein said. “But the coach I know still gets thank-you letters from high school athletes he coached 50 years ago.”

Beginning in the early 1960s, Hartzog turned Southern Illinois into a national powerhouse. His men’s track teams won every Missouri Valley Conference meet in which they competed.

“The thing I’m proudest of is, I’ve had about 100 of my ex-athletes call to congratulate me on this honor,” Hartzog said. “This is a fantastic sport. Thank you.”

Michigan State coach Walt Drenth accepted on behalf of Schlademan, the former Kansas, Washington State and Michigan State coach. Schlademan died in 1980 at age 90.

The USTFCCCA Hall of Fame consists of 130 coaches.

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