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1961 Track and Field Team (2002)

It was unlikely that the year 1961 would be any different than the previous nineteen in Chicago Catholic League track & field. St. Ignatius had not lost its hold on the championship trophy in nearly two decades and was not about to let it go now. However, their counterparts at Loyola saw a different storyline, and put together a stunning championship performance to bring the title to Wilmette. Guided by first year coach Jack Egan, a graduate who had just returned to Loyola after four years in the Navy, Loyola's track men entered the championship meet after a very successful regular season. They had won the very prestigious Chicago Daily News Relays during the indoor season and had gone undefeated in dual meets. Egan modestly gives credit to Dan Mulligan, his predecessor and former coach, who upon leaving the Academy had left behind a seasoned, well-trained group of track and field athletes. Clearly, Loyola was ready to compete for the title, but just as clearly, St. Ignatius was the overwhelming favorite to take the trophy home again. In the week prior to the meet, Coach Egan had made the decision which proved critical and decisive. The anticipation had been building for a grand showdown in the half mile between the nationally-renowned Tom Sullivan of St. George and Loyola's up-and-coming junior, Jim Murphy (Hall of Fame, 1999). Coach Egan himself was caught up in the romance of the match-up of the Midwest's top two 880 men. One of his own runners, however, had a different idea. Don Fox, a solid half-miler in his own right, came to Coach Egan's office and suggested a different game plan: run Murphy in the mile and bring him back in the mile relay, and forget about the showdown in order to get more points. Fox added one other thing — he guaranteed he would get second place in the half himself. It was Loyola's good fortune that Coach Egan quickly saw the wisdom of Fox's idea, and was willing to discard his own. At the seeding meeting days before the meet, the St. Ignatius coach was stunned to see Murphy in the mile, and perhaps knew then that something historic was about to happen. The championship meet was held at the University of Chicago track just yards from the site under the stands where, some fifteen years earlier, Enrico Fermi and his team had split the atom for the first time and nuclear fission was born. Loyola's track men, fishing for a title, were about to make their own history happen. The contributors that spring day were many as Loyola did the unthinkable and captured the title, outscoring St. Ignatius 53 _ to 47. They did so in convincing style, with balance and depth, scoring points in every event. Junior Jim Murphy (a future NCAA 5000 meter champion) claimed the mile in an impressive 4:25 while senior Tim O'Shaughnessy took the pole vault (10'3"). Sprinter Joe Griffin doubled, with a second in the 100-yard dash and a third in the 220. In the shot, Tom Leahy took second with Gerry Prior fourth. Paul Cathcart grabbed second in the long jump, while John Seidler and Jack Wambach (Hall of Fame, 1998) went two-three in the high jump. Harry McDonagh ran third in the low hurdles and Seidler was fifth in the highs. Roger Zemba finished fourth in the quarter, and Nick Rassas (Hall of Fame, 1985) helped lead the 880 relay team to a second place finish. And what about Don Fox, who had guaranteed a second to Sullivan in the half? He did just that, making good on his promise with in a time of two minutes flat. Heading into the final event of the meet, Loyola had the meet locked up. However, there was one more battle to be won. Earlier in the meet, an Ignatius runner had fallen in a race, losing valuable points. The word was already out on the track from some Ignatius supporters that they would lose the meet only because of this incident. Jim Murphy, Roger Zemba, Cliff Smolluch, and team captain George Seidenbecker would have none of that. Awaiting the start of the final event, the mile relay, the four decided that nothing would taint Loyola's now certain victory. A win in the relay would remove any lingering doubt about Loyola's true claim to the team title, and eliminate the "ifs" and "buts." After outstanding legs by Zemba, Smolluch, and Seidenbecker, Loyola still trailed St. Ignatius. It was down to Ignatius' Morley, who earlier had won the open quarter, and Loyola's Murphy. A short minute later, it was all over but the shouting. Murphy's blistering 48.5 anchor leg was enough to track down and pass Ignatius, closing down the meet and turning out the lights on the post-mortems. Thus, the 1961 Track and Field team concluded a memorable season of accomplishment, taking home the Catholic League Championship trophy it had not held in over two decades. Truly, this was a team of destiny and greatness.

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