SI Vault
 
NOBODY'S BIGGER THAN JUMBO
Rick Telander
March 10, 1980
For 45 years, James Francis Elliott has been coach of track at Villanova, bringing home more silverware than he knows what to do with. And it's only a part-time job
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 10, 1980

Nobody's Bigger Than Jumbo

For 45 years, James Francis Elliott has been coach of track at Villanova, bringing home more silverware than he knows what to do with. And it's only a part-time job

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

One afternoon not long ago. Jumbo watched Maree run some stretch-out laps. Maree wouldn't be going to the Olympics regardless of a boycott—South Africa is banned because of its apartheid policy—nor is he allowed to compete in international meets or in any meets in which foreigners not enrolled in U.S. schools are involved. The tragic irony is that Maree is black.

Last season Maree ran several of the best middle-distance times in the world. He would like to become a U.S. citizen, but to be eligible he must reside in this country five years and he has been here only three. For an athlete whose skills could peak at any moment, two years is a long time to wait. Barring an Act of Congress or a change in South Africa's racial policies, that is what he must do. "It breaks me in a way," Maree has said. "But it builds me in a way. I'm able to take punishment."

Jumbo steps onto the splintering board track. A few hundred yards away is Goodreau Stadium, in which the school's quarter-mile outdoor track is situated. In a time when many high schools have expensive all-weather tracks, the one at Goodreau is still cinders.

Villanova doesn't belong to a conference in track and has no dual meets, so its inadequate facilities are not as great a liability as they might seem. Indeed, they are of virtually no concern to the middle-and long-distance men. "Facilities just aren't that important," says Liquori. "A miler can run anywhere. Kenyans get by without any tracks whatsoever."

It's harder on the field men, of course, which is why Villanova usually does poorly in those events. "When Don Bragg was here, we had a sawdust pole-vault pit that used to freeze solid in the winter," says Jumbo. " Bragg used to get a shovel and chop it up so he could jump. Of course, you don't get many kids like Bragg anymore."

Which probably is all right with Elliott. Some speculate that it was because of the excitable Bragg—who gave Tarzan yells before he charged down the runway and, according to Jumbo, could eat "fifteen barbecued chickens and out-arm-wrestle any football player at Villanova"—that Elliott began concentrating on runners. At any rate, Baker now handles the field men.

Jumbo watches as Maree circles the track. The troubled young man is a patterned, precise runner. If a glass of ice cubes were placed on his head there wouldn't be a clink as he glided down the straightaways. Still, Jumbo sees flaws.

"Hey, Syd, twist your arms just a little on the turns," he yells.

Maree circles the track again.

"Like this?" he yells, without moving his head or changing expression.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9