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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Marquette Park Track Club

In the southside of Chicago, a guy named Jack Bolton, once one of Ireland's top milers in the late 1930s and early 1940s, ran the Marquette Park Track Club. In his late 70s then, he still ran races like the Park Forest 10 Miler. On Mondays through Thursdays he could be found at the park, on the north side of the older cinder track.

Mr. Bolton managed to pull together some of the best Chicago runners. The standouts were the high school women, from Laura Haggerty to twins Anne and Gloria Kuiken. A few up and coming runners, and some older guys new to running but fast as lightening. (see list below).

These were serious runners. We ran hard, raced hard, and, all these years later, many are still showing up near the top of the results pages.

In 1983-84 was when I was in my best shape, and ran with the MPTC, after meeting the Kuikens at a race. They kindly drove me daily until I started riding my bike from Palos Heights to 63rd and Kedzie. 13 miles there, practice, 13 miles back. The smell of the Nabisco Company's Nilla Wafer's factory filled the air as we ran up and around the park.

The love of running was Mr. Bolton's view. He saw the egalitarian side of it all. Male or female, whatever age, none of that mattered at the starting line.

Once, (I think at the Keebler Cross-Country Invitational?), I was intimidated that York High School's star miler, Jim White, would be sharing the starting box with me. Why I was intimidated was obvious. White would run an indoor 1500 at 3:50.2 before he graduated. My best 1600 was a 4:44.3. There was no way around it: I was outclassed and was about to get my butt kicked.

Mr. Bolton explained things clearly, his Irish brogue still intact:
"Tony, you've seen him. How big is he? About your size. Are his legs especially bigger? No. He's going to get tired the same as you, and has to have as many steps as you to run the distance. I want you to start with him, run with him and beat him up that hill."
I started with him, I ran with him, and I lost him halfway up the hill, the last I saw of him. Sometimes, even when the odds are unrealistic, there's no point in not trying. The difference between White and myself was not size. It was either something in the mind or muscles. I was strong mentally, so maybe I could survive. Had I somehow stuck with him, what a cool thing that would have been. Instead, I ran a decent race, and had close to a PR.

Because of Mr. Bolton, I probably did much better. With his help, and by running with so many strong runners, I'm sure I knocked off a lot of time from my three-mile time.

Guys like Jack Bolton, selfless, kind, encouraging, are hard to find. I think that's one of things I enjoy about the Jim Spivey Running Club. Jim charges a few bucks for his services, but barely enough to pay for gas. Those running aren't anywhere near elite times (Spivey himself has a 13:15.86 5K under his belt), but are something more than recreational runners. Why is he coaching us? I don't know, but I am glad. There are Jack Boltons everywhere, and I'veb been blessed to know the real deal.

The Marquette Park Track Club is no longer, and Jack Bolton has moved on to be with God, but what great days those were. Running hard and racing hard.

Jack's a guy I wish I knew better. His impact on my life was subtle, and brief, but significant. Likewise, the entire Marquette Park Track Club group was a special, yet hard to describe thing for me. Looking back, it introduced me to Chicago and to 'real runners'. We had some swift ones, but despite being fast, not obsessed with running. I was obsessed, Marquette Park Track Club helped get my brain straight.

I knew the Loop, sort of, as a kind of local tourist. What I did not know were real Chicagoans. David Rodriguez, Dan Zepeda, and others were that. The journey there from my house was that, either by a long bus ride (127th/Ridgeland to 95th/Ridgeland to 95th/Kedzie to Kedzie and 63rd), or a longer bike ride (127th/Ridgeland to Southwest Highway/Ridgeland to, I think, around 79th/Kedzie to 63rd/Kedzie). I saw Chicago evolve from suburbs to city.

Running was blissful and fun. Fast was easy, and I had no idea how quickly it would leave me.

I remember these great runners from those days. I will add links and names as this old memory finds them. Were you part of this group? Please contact me, and I will list you and link to your homepage. I'd love to post some more memories and photos.
  • Jack Bolton -- Coach (read a great article about Mr. Bolton by one his runners)
  • David Rodriguez -- Then an employee of a peanut factor, now a professor (and standup comedian and retired Chicago cop). See his blog.
  • Joey Rodriguez -- David's brother. He was in HS then, and went on to run for St. Xavier College in Chicago.
  • Anne and Gloria Kuiken (now Gloria Iverson) -- Star runners from Stagg High School, and to whom I owe much for connecting me to the Marquette Park Track Club. They ran for DePaul and set records galore. Their parents drove me countless times from their home in Palos Hills.
  • Dan Zepeda -- Dan was often my running partner. His sister won, I believe, the Golden Apple award for top Chicago teachers.
  • John and Mike King
  • Jerry Kohn -- Jerry occasionally gave me a ride.
  • Joe Lindsay -- Fantastic runner from Louisiana, and the guy who introduced me to break dancing.
  • Jim and Sharon Locascio -- Sharon was a standout miler from Evergreen Park HS
  • Laura Haggerty -- Standout from Evergreen Park HS
  • Eileen Murphy
  • Joe Gregory
  • Stan Bartecki
  • Ray Allen
  • Erin Ahern
  • Alec Zelisko -- Coach of St. Ignatius High School track


David Diego said...

My brother Joe Rodriguez ran for Quigley South and then went to DePaul University.
Jerry Kohn is a history teacher at Richards H.S. and he ran for public office in Oak Lawn.
Stan Bartecki is a coach at Mother McAuley.
Ray Allen is a Chicago police officer.
Joe Gregory used to teach and coach at Maria H.S., but now teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.
Me? I'm still retired and teaching Spanish at UIC.

Anonymous said...

I ran for Jack Bolton during the summers of 1969-73 while running at Quigley South. Joe Gregory was a QS classmate. I wrote an essay about JB that rec'd honorable mention in Best Sports Writing 1997. Here's a link:

Would love to hear from old MPTC runners...

Resilient Hawk said...

That's a great piece, Mark. You captured Mr. Bolton well. I have linked to it from my post.

I miss those days, but can happily say I am with a great bunch of runners and a coach who is as solid of a person as he is a runner.

Mark said...

Thanks! I remember you finding me a few years back, and it took me a few more to respond with a thanks for your kind comments. I now teach English and work as an assistant XC and track coach XC at New Trier. Not a day goes by when I don't think of Bolton and that growl of his.

Mark said...
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