Early one morning last month, when nothing was stirring in Abilene, Texas but the reels of Muzak tape in a storefront on North Fourth Street, Mrs. Margaret Ellison put her gold starting blocks and red-white-and-blue batons in the trunk of her car and set out for Austin. A can of Rayette's The Young Set hair spray rolled about on the floor, a javelin rattled against the top of the dash, and blaring forth from the radio were, or so said one of the three girls in back, "the Imitation Beatles." She added disarmingly, "Did you know England just declared war on the United States? Lady Bird ate a Beatle."
Mrs. Ellison, who is known by her passengers (to her face) as Miz El'son or (behind her back) as Flamin' Mamie or Ma Kettle, is a 46-year-old divorc�e who wears her tinted strawberry-blonde hair in what she calls a "chignon rat." Mrs. Ellison works as a secretary for Hank Hankins. On the door of Mr. Hankins' office, which is next to Charlie Cluck's in Abilene's First State Bank Building, is lettered "Hank Hankins Interests." Mr. Hankins' interests are oil, real estate, ranching "and other investments," and he will tell you that they are doing "real well." Mrs. Ellison's interest is the Texas Track Club (see cover), the best of a handful of all-girl track clubs in Texas. Mrs. Ellison is its coach, and she will tell you that her girls are coming along "real well."
The Texas Track Club is celebrated on two counts—its athletic achievements and the uncommon beauty of its girls, who compete in dazzling uniforms, elaborate makeup and majestic hairdos. These hairdos, which are either bouffant or flip if at all possible, may not be aerodynamically sound and may be "out" east of the Hudson, but they are an unqualified sensation at a track meet. "They are our trademark," says Jeanne Ellison, the coach's 16-year-old daughter. "Bouffant is easier to run in because the wind doesn't blow your hair in your face."
In one sense, the Texas Track Club has done more to promote women's track in the U.S. than if its members had, say, won the national AAU championships. (In fact, they finished 12th last year, with a third in the 440-yard relay and the 220-yard low hurdles and a sixth in the 220-yard dash.) After the age of 10, American girls generally lose interest in running—it is unbecoming and too far out. And American boys generally lose interest in the few girls who take up the sport, the popular belief being that they look like Olive Oyl or Tugboat Annie. The Texas Track Club, however, has shown that you can be beautiful and still run the 100 in 10.9. Because of this delightful anomaly, its members have been a hit—and spread the gospel—at such topflight meets as the Los Angeles, Albuquerque and Dallas Invitationals. And it is not at all unlikely that a couple of Mrs. Ellison's girls will make the U.S. Olympic team.
"I'm trying to change the stereotyped image of the track girl," says Mrs. Ellison. "Every year we have a good-looking team and good-looking uniforms—none of those bags. I prefer pretty girls. I insist that they wear makeup. We all go to the beauty shop before each meet, so we can get beautiful and get our minds off the meet. When we ran in Albuquerque this January, I could have killed myself. They have the worst beauty operators in the world in Albuquerque. After I came out of one shop, I went right into another one where this man made my hair worse. I had to go back to the motel and do it myself. We have different hairdos for each meet. We straighten a lot of girls' hair, but of course you can't make it too bouffant when it's natural-curly."
That March morning Mrs. Ellison was driving Janis Rinehart, Sue Schexnayder and Paula Walter, three of the club's eight girls, to a meet in the state capital. Two others, Irene Williams and Cel Rutledge, were unable to compete that weekend; Carvelynne Leonard (her sister is Dudley Darlynne) was driving in from Houston; Dora Dyson lives in Austin; and Jeanne, the coach's daughter, refused to go because she didn't want to be separated from Charles, her boy friend. "If she'd leave him alone, he'd be a better runner," says Mrs. Ellison. "They're jealous of one another. Charles had done the 220 in 21.4, the 100 in 9.9. It just kills my soul. They both have ability and they're hurting each other. I'd kick her off the team, only she's mine. I want my girls to go out, but last year Janis took her boy friend to the nationals and he was a disturbing influence."
The previous night Paula had asked Jeanne whether she ran for Charles, herself, the crowd or the team. "I run for Charles," said Jeanne, whose hair is frosted several shades of platinum. "That's definitely wrong. You run for the team," said Paula, who dyes her brown hair black and wears it "five or six ways, and real crazy." "Well," said Jeanne, "I feel better when Charles is there." "I'd hate the boy I date to see me run," said Paula. "I'd feel embarrassed."
Paula Walter, who was known as The Eola Flash when she was playing high school basketball in Eola, is 18 and runs the third leg on the club's 440-yard-relay team. She has twice won the Best Physically Built trophy at the Blue Bonnet Relays in San Angelo, last year was runner-up Miss Make it Yourself with Wool and took the first prize of 20 silver dollars in a twist contest. "I'm always entering contests," says Paula. "I like to do anything better than average." One of seven children whose names all start with P (including Poni), Paula boards with Mrs. Ellison. She says she wants to become a beautician. "Paula knows how to do hair," says Mrs. Ellison. "And she teaches the girls how to wear makeup." Most of the time Paula sits around the Ellison house trying on her clothes and painting her nails. The night before she left for Austin, they were the color of chocolate fudge. "That's a mixture of gold and pink," Paula explained. "I use black sometimes. When we wore black satin uniforms, I had black nail polish. In San Angelo, when I got down in my blocks, there were all those girls looking at my nails. Shoot, I got a good start. It was neat." But Paula is outgrowing track. "I'm so tired of having Coke dates," she says. "There is so much I miss just running track. I like to date. I love parties. I've always run on natural ability. I may as well be truthful, I think I could do a lot better, but if I trained like Rinehart I'd be the biggest square in town."
Janis—the aforementioned Rinehart—along with the other Texas Track Club girls who live in Abilene, works out four evenings a week at McMurry College. In an hour-and-a-half session she will jog a mile, do calisthenics and run five wind sprints of 115 yards each, then put her spikes on and run five repeat 150s and two or three 220s. Every other day she works in the blocks on 15 to 25 practice starts. The day after a meet, Janis jogs. "Rinehart can jog five miles without stopping," says Mrs. Ellison.
"Track is hard to give up," says Paula. "You learn new things, meet people. People satisfy me so much. If I don't get out and run some each day, I feel like I've committed a sin. I'm in top shape, but in bad condition." Indeed, Paula does real well by her white, sleeveless running shirt that has TEXAS emblazoned in big red letters across the front. "Mine fits tight," she says. "A lot of boys tease me, call me Miss Texas. I'm all Texas. I shouldn't talk so much about myself, but my life's been so interesting."