FROM: CARL FORDE - WINGATE '61
I come from a different perspective than guys like Calvin, Paul, Joe, Dennis, Cato, and the other good and truly great runners of my era at WINGATE HIGH.
It all began in gym class, my sophomore year. Mr. WEIDMAN, the baseball coach, had the class run a quarter mile in the gym. I finished 2nd. Had I put that finish in perspective I probably never would have joined the team.
Coming from Bedford-Stuyvesant, you were expected to be a natural born athlete vs. these guys who had problems running 50 yards or shooting a basketball.
Coming from my hood, I was average, not good, but an ok athlete.
In my gym class, I was the star. I beat the local boys at everything, thus I began to think I was pretty good. I then had the privilege of having Don Altman, track team coach, as my hygiene teacher. That did it. He exalted the joys of joining the team, no hygiene class, no gym class, traveling, carfare, Penn Relays, X-country, and girls.
And then there were the red and white track jackets and sweaters with the winged foot on them and the big red “W” on it – and girls. What else could I ask for?
An additional factor at that time was that black students made up less than 5% of the school’s population.. In some of my classes I was the only black. I know that several of my friends felt like strangers in a strange land.
Some were actually thinking of transferring to Boys High, specifically, Leroy Richardson, my Halsey Street neighbor and myself. Calvin Evans encouraged me to stay and run track. Lucky for me, Cal was there to steer me in the right direction.
So one day, my good friend, Huston Dixon and myself went to track practice. I guess I was really meant to be on the team, because there were no tryouts. I failed tryouts for both the baseball and handball teams. Mr. Rosenstein was the handball coach and they were the NEW YORK CITY CHAMPIONS, for several years in a row.
Coach Rosenstein served some balls to me. I could not put a hand on them. Who from "the neighborhood" ever used a black ball with gloves? A pink Spalding high bouncer that was it, on those great handball courts at J.H.S. 35.
Leroy Richardson, who did make the baseball team, could not make that handball team, and he was great with that Spalding.
Well any way, all I had to do was show up and I made the team. (Good thing because I could only out sprint maybe 5 of 25 guys). I felt completely at home being a member of the team.
It was just a fantastic feeling, being part of a team of such talented and outstanding athletes ( I didn’t see them as athletes then, just guys).
As one of the regular guys, and not great or outstanding, I marveled at their talent and grace. Each one had their own style and personality. No one on the team was ever made to feel “inferior” to the truly talented runners. Little did I know that these were some of the best times in my “educational experience.
Let me just pat myself on the back, because I am probably the only one who remembers this great moment in history.
In the duel meet with Boys High, I did win the Half-mile race. ( I will not give the winning time, but it was a strategic race and I won ).
Several of us are still in contact, and get together at The Millrose Games and Penn Relays.