Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Saluki Sports

SalukisBy Fred Huff

Raise your hand if you’ve had enough . . . basketball, that is.  We had our fill following a bad-weather weekend which only made watching tournament basketball more appealing.  However, by the time Sweet Sixteen games get underway Thursday night we’ll be ready to go again.

It’s only that everyone has had some disappointments in the first two rounds of games, but hopefully there have been more reasons to shout and celebrate than to pout and cry.  At least that’s what we’ve experienced.

Like most others across the nation, we’ve enjoyed watching the Florida Gulf Coast University celebrate two totally unexpected victories even though the second was against Steve Fisher (of Herrin) and his San Diego State club.  The FGCU team is exciting to watch and it has no understanding of being outclassed.

Despite all this, NCAA basketball is going to have to share our interests this weekend with track.  That’s because SIU is dedicating its new track and field facility.  The track portion of the superb layout just east of Abe Martin (baseball) Field is being dedicated in honor of former men’s coach Lew Hartzog while the throwing area will be dedicated to present coach Connie Price Smith.  Both are deserving of the honor.

Chances are you haven’t seen the new layout which is south of the SIU Arena parking lot.  We don’t know what the cost of the track — and throwing area — has been, but hopefully it will provide Saluki athletes with a first-class home for years and years to come.

The former facility was located inside and immediately east of McAndrew Stadium.  It became a victim of the wrecking ball, along with the stadium, a year or so ago which necessitated the new facility.  And, in all probability that’s the only way SIU’s program would have been modernized.  Track facilities have never been a top-level item at SIU perhaps because Hartzog — and the Salukis — were always so successful in the sport with what he — and his athletes — had to work with.

Hartzog, for those who haven’t been long-time Saluki fans, arrived at SIU in the summer of 1960, the same day we began our long association with the university.

He had been at Northeast Louisiana for several seasons, but became upset when university powers there would not allow his team, which included several African-Americans, to compete in major meets where other black athletes were also competing.  Hartzog is not the type of person to accept such ridiculous restrictions and that’s just one reason why he jumped at the opportunity to switch to SIU when athletic director Don Boydston made the offer.

SIU’s program at the time was not one to attract national attention or national-level athletes.  It was in keeping with the level other sports were operating at up until Boydston’s arrival in the late-1950s.

Despite the cinder track and lack of indoor training facilities, Hartzog developed a top-notch program which soon was recognized as one of the finest in the nation.  He was constantly pleading for new facilities and his complaints were finally heard several years after his retirement in 1984.

One of his finst athletes, Bill Cornell, who came to this country from England, had replaced Hartzog as men’s coach in 1985.  It took four years, however, and several delays before a new, nine-lane, all-weather track was completed in 1988.

The track was later dedicated in Hartzog’s honor and he will be returning to southern Illinois this weekend for the re-dedication of SIU’s new facility.  Now living in Silver City, New Mexico, where he claims his only decision made each day is to “play golf, go hunting or fishing”, Hartzog’s return will present some excitement.  You just never know what it might be.

The meet, which is also part of this weekend’s activities, has been named in honor of Cornell, but it’s doubtful if he’ll be present as he and his lifetime companion, Rose, recently moved to Florida.  Despite his absence, it’ll be quite a weekend as many of Hartzog’s former athletes are scheduled to return for the occasion.

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