History of the Delaware Sports Club by Bill Thomson

In the spring of 1960 three University of Delaware student athletes started Delaware Track & Field club because none of the Philadelphia area track clubs, especially The Philadelphia Pioneer Club, had any interest in Delaware kids. Local UD athletes, from Conrad and Mt. Pleasant high schools, Roy Jernigan, Brian Harrington and Larry Pratt formed the early Delaware T&F Club to have an avenue for competition outside of the University of Delaware. At that time Roy Jernigan did an artist’s concept of the logo which was used by the club until the start of Delaware Sports Club. Roy and Brian were distance runners and wanted to put on a half marathon to run prior to the Boston Marathon. This was the start of the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon which flourishes today. Larry Pratt helped lay out the original course while leaning out the door of a VW bus. The original sponsors for the half marathon were the Hotel Dupont and the Wilmington Police Department. The first winner was Browning Ross from Southern New Jersey. Larry Pratt directed the Caesar Rodney half marathon for 8 to 10 years and then it was passed on to the T&F club.

Jim Flynn, the University of Delaware track coach at the time, recalls that the UD athletic director cautioned him not to be involved in any way with the AAU during the time that the club was started as an AAU club. This was a time when the AAU and the NCAA were in disagreement concerning who should have the most say in selecting our Olympic and National teams. The NCAA had all, or most, of the facilities, and the athletes were for the most part college kids. Of course, in time the NCAA and the National Governing Body for track and field have mended fences and are now partners in the sport.

Early financing for the fledgling club was for arranged by a meeting between Mary Virginia Smith and John Rollins. Larry Pratt and Mrs. Smith met with Mr. Rollins on a Sunday morning while Rollins was still attired in his bathrobe. It was agreed that Rollins would give a first year grant to the club of $2500.00 and match evenly whatever the club raised the second year, and year three was to bring nothing further from John Rollins.

In 1964 during the winter, Ginger Smith of Tower Hill school ran in a couple of Baltimore meets, winning a short dash in a minor meet and then took third in the Baltimore Sun Meet. Then Jack Williams of the West Chester Track Club assembled a “Middle Atlantic Track Club” 4 x 110-relay team for the Penn Relays. Ginger Smith, Lois Dawson of the West Chester Club and two Lower Merion HS girls, Barbara Thompson and Lee Sherwood placed third in 49.1. Then probably Mary Virginia Smith asked Larry Pratt, who was at that time the president of the young Delaware Track & Field Club, to form a women’s track club. May of 1964 brought a women’s meet to the Tower Hill track. DTFC, LaMott Track Club of Philadelphia, West Chester T.C., Middle Atlantic AAU and Coatesville teams competed. The 1964 Middle Atlantic Championship was held at Baynard Stadium and DTFC won over several other more established clubs. President Larry Pratt announced that he was “amazed” at the outcome. Some of the Delaware Track club competitors were Barbara Sowden, Lois Dawson, Ginger Smith, Joyce Barnes, Dede Hardy, Marion Washington, and Pat Lux. That winter there was an “Olympic Night” at Wilcastle center sponsored by DTFC. Olympic Champion Wilma Rudolph was the featured guest. The club’s officers at that time were; Larry Pratt, President; Bob Gilchrist, V.P.; Bob Downes, Treasurer; and the behind the scenes mover and shaker, Mary Virginia Smith who brought Ms. Rudolph to town.

The coaching aspects of the club soon passed from Larry Pratt to Bob Behr who was the Tower Hill High School coach. Tower Hill’s track also became available through Bob and several of the Tower Hill girls joined DTFC. The club became quite visible with the Frank Newlin sponsored Wednesday night development meets, and Junior Olympic competition, which that time was highly contested. The club grew into a regional power.

In the early 1970’s Bob Behr moved to Massachusetts and Bill Thomson took over the coaching duties for the club. During his tenure the women’s club became a national power and attracted a number of skilled athletes. As an example the Delaware Track & Field Club placed 2nd to The Brooklyn Atoms T.C in the AAU National Championships held at UCal Irvine with five very good athletes scoring: Jean Roberts in the shot-put and discus, Chris A’Harrah in the 200 and 400, Carol Thomson in the pentathlon and 100 meter hurdles, Karen Moller in the high jump and Wendy Sorrick in the javelin. A great many higher profile and better-funded clubs placed behind the Delaware women.

Some of the exceptional athletes to represent the Delaware Track & Field Club in the late 1960’s and 1970’s included Bill Skinner, rated at one time as 2nd in the world in the javelin; Chris Dunn who won the NCAA championship twice in the high jump and was a 1972 Olympian; Dave Romansky who was a many time national AAU Champion in walking events and represented the USA at the 1968 Olympic Games; Carol Thomson who held a world record and two American records in the women’s hurdles as well as winning the AIAW National Collegiate Championship in the 100MH; Jean Roberts who was twice the AAU National Champion in the women’s discus, and Chris A’Harrah who represented the USA at 200 and 400 meters against the USSR team. Also, Karen Moller, who sadly placed 4th twice in the USA Olympic Trials in the high jump, was a long standing member of the club. The list goes on, but the point is that we had some very high level athletes during that time.

Funding for the club was a constant problem, and in the early 1970’s some street misbehavior in Wilmington came to the club’s rescue. It seems that a youngster in Wilmington threw a brick through a local barbershop window, and so incensed some of the local citizens that we were approached by a Lou Brooks, a well known community activist and boxing coach, with William F. du Pont in tow. Mr. du Pont offered us substantial funding if we agreed to take the local boxing club under our wing as well. Obviously the “track and field” in our club name would no longer be appropriate, so we begun searching for an inclusive name. The first choice, Delaware Olympic Club, ran afoul of the U.S. Olympic Committee who promised court action if did not drop that handle. We finally reached agreement on Delaware Sports Club so that we could take on whatever new sport was necessary. The club president at that time, C.K. Xander, designed the new club’s logo by incorporating the previous Olympic style torch along with three stars representing the three counties of our state.

William du Pont was a man of his word and was the primary source of funding for our traveling teams, which went far and wide to competitions. At one point we received 100 shares of Christiana Securities from Mr. du Pont, which was then the holding company for the Dupont Company. That caused some discussion, as some of he board wanted to hold those shares. Those spendthrifts among us agreed to sell the stock and use it to fund the club. It lasted quite a while. As a matter of interest, the association with the boxing club never amounted to much at all. But the new name stuck.

After Larry Pratt, C. K. Xander became club president and remained so for a number of years. Xander was the executive director of the Wilmington Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs and as such had a great deal of experience in fund raising. During that time Richmond Skinner ran the Sports Club‘s official’s division, which thrived under his direction. Some of the early officials were Russ Hurley, Paul Gladden, Bill Gerow, George Johnson, Bill Crowther, Anne and Bill Thomson, Mike and Vera Sinovich, Cliff Stelle, Dave Cushing and Al Chirnside. Some of these people continue to officiate today.

In 1972 a newcomer to the area, Tom Fort a Dupont engineer, became involved with the club. Tom was elected treasurer in 1972 and finally in 1978 Tom became the club’s president, and today he remains in that job. The Sports Club as it is now known has evolved into principally an officiating group for local high school and college competition. The club has supplied most of the trained officials for nearly all of the state high school championship meets for over three decades. Today the officiating ranks are thinning due to the age or infirmity of many of the clubs members, so the number of certified officials we are able to offer has diminished considerably. The future of The Sports Club is at present murky.

April 2009

Update: May, 2010.  Tom Fort has retired after 32 years as club president and leaves a rich legacy.  A new 12-member Board of Directors has been seated to fill all the roles that Tom held for so many years.   The board has re-vamped the club by-laws, reinstituted regular board meetings, and elected a new slate of officers.  Increased emphasis is being placed both upon recruiting new members for the Running Club distance running contingent, and finding new blood to sustain officiating roles.   The club remains in excellent financial shape.   We are optimistic about the future of the Delaware Sports Club and look forward to growth, success, and good times!