See the July 1957 issue for coverage of that year's AAU Championships in Dayton, Ohio. The front page's news story, written by Cordner Nelson, is headlined "AAU Meet Fouled Up."
The story begins, <<The poorest National AAU meet in many years is now history, but the reverberations of this 69th annual meet will be heard for years to come........>>
Later in the issue, Cordner felt moved to devote his column (a looong version) to the meet:
Track Talk by Cordner Nelson
It is with great sorrow that I write these words, for I have strong accusations to make against the AAU and I know what it can cost me. But I just do this thing, for I am convinced the evil being done is too great to condone, even in this age of "Security at all costs".
In the past I have been lenient toward the AAU. I have not joined the many sportswriters whose long experience with the AAU has produced a prejudice which blinds them to the good done by that organization. We need the AAU. Many good, efficient men are AAU officials. And yet some deficiency in the organization permits its national track and field championships to be conducted with shameful disregard for the spectators who finance the meet and with shocking injustices to the athletes,
The neglect of the spectators seems to be of little concern. The national AAU can obtain guaranteed bids from local groups, in cities off the beaten path of the track world, who, in turn, recover their money from unsuspecting local citizens lured by fraudulent advertising of "the greatest meet with the possible exception of the Olympic Games". And so everyone concerned seems to be happy, except the bewildered spectator, who is obviously not being wooed by the national group—except at fund raising time.
And yet, would it not be wise to please the spectators? Wouldn't the sport then grow faster? And is it morally right to charge money to see a meet, then hide the field events in places outside the oval in order to protect the turf for high school football?
The lighting was so bad at Dayton that we could not see much of the field events. The announcing did little to help us enjoy the meet. And among the drawbacks to the meet was the program, which confused spectators by listing wrong numbers; by listing the same man twice, with different numbers; by listing men who had not entered the meet; and by such gems as Merv Lincoln in the 220 and Bill Nieder in the hop step jump.
No, we spectators can be ignored. It is our fault for going to the meet. But the Championship exists for the athletes, and uufairnesses to them makes a farce of the Nationals, and all official records become suspect.
Below is a list of some of the serious errors made by officials at Dayton. I make no claim. that this list is complete. Some of the errors were reported to me by athletes and coaches. In several cases I discovered the error myself. In the case of the mismeasured staggers, I checked it myself. Read this list and ask yourself if the athletes were treated fairly in the national championship meet of the United States.
1. Each finalist in the 440 ran a different distance, with the new champion and record holder running only 432 yards.
2. The 220 staggers were reportedly exactly half of the 440 staggers. (I did not personally verify this, as I did the 440 staggers.) Thus, the winner and new coholder of the record ran only 215 yards.
3. The new record in the 2 mile walk was actually 30 seconds slower than the official time.
4. Willie White was probably the winner of the 100 yard dash and certainly no worse than third, yet he was placed 6th and made no European tour. There was no camera to be used to aid the judges.
5. Aubrey Lewis, NCAA 400 meter hurdle champion, on the testimony of some of America's leading coaches, quaed in third place for the final of the 440 hurdles, yet he was placed 5th and deprived of all chance at the national championship.
6. John Lawlor's best preliminary hammer throw was measured at 199'11", his marker was removed, then replaced, and remeasured, later, at 200'1", which became his official mark—a new Irish record.
7. Olympic champion Al Oerter bettered Gordien's meet record with the discus, but his marker was kicked over and never replaced. His second best mark was good enough to win, fortunately.
8. Ken Bantum, defending shot put champion, lost his best puts because the sector was too small and his shot hit a concrete wall.
9. There were complaints of other mistakes by the finish judges in the 100, low hurdles, and mile. There were reports of inadequate vaulting standards, complaints of poor track and runways, a rumored mistake in the javelin markers, and inadequate lighting which caused serious trouble to some athletes. And there were serious charges of faulty timing.
Some of these mistakes, such as Laskau's time, can still be corrected. Old record holders and future record breakers in the 220 and 440 should not be penalized by this year's short distances. Lawlor's mark should be corrected. But most of the damage can never be repaired.
The only constructive action for the AAU is to take steps to see that such atrocities shall never again harm our athletes. I suggest the following:
1. Hire a capable man (such as H. D. Thoreau) to supervise the local group each year. This could be done by mail, by short visits, and by one intensive week of work before the meet.
2. Revise the system used by finish judges. Under the present system, they are too close to the track and are continually missing a runner close to them. The eye cannot focus on an object too close for the speed it is moving. Also, finish judges, instead of looking for only one place, should look for two or three places, so that one runner can never be entirely overlooked.
3. Never hold a championship event without a camera at the finish line. If Bulova and Omega want too much money, use some private photographers. Why, even a Polaroid camera would be better than nothing.
4. A complaint or protest booth should be set up for the athletes and protests should receive immediate attention, not a shrug of the shoulders. Such a proper attitude toward the welfare of the athletes should have resulted .(n a remeasurement of lanes at Dayton, for the officials were notified.)
5. Part of the local group's bid for the championships should include a promise to meet certain specifications and to obey the wishes of the national group or the executive in charge. (At Dayton, competent coaches told the meet director the track needed another watering, but he refused to do so.)
The changes would eliminate the most serious errors. I realize that some errors are inevitable, but those at Dayton are inexcusable. I believe that such a sincere effort would restore the confidence of the athletes, and the National AAU meet would regain some of the prestige it has lost among. athletes, coaches, and fans.
Another way to improve would be to help the spectators enjoy the meet. I have, also, a few suggestions along that line:
1. Hire a professional announcer, who knows track.
2. Place all field events where they can be seen.
3. Schedule the two day meet in a different manner. In general, start all field events earlier, so that most of them end before the finals are run. Field events can be tremendously interesting if you can devote your undivided attention to them
4. Make athletes qualify of the national meet through district or regional meets, thus reducing the number of heats necessary, and making it possible to list athletes in the, program as seeded in their events.
5. Announce all lane assignments in time for spectators to identify the runners before the start.
6. Make the program interesting. (See the 1955 NCAA program.)
7. Keep the field clear of excess athletes and officials.
I have pointed out some mistakes, and I have made some suggestions. So what? I expect this is what: (1) I’ll receive some angry denials from a few AAU people. (2) Nothing will be accomplished; it will again be left to chance. Some people think all this is a big joke. D.tnk Templeton said, "I think it was the funniest meet I've ever seen. " Well, Dink’s sense of humor is stronger than mine, because I thought it was sickening.
Therefore, I make this statement, and you guilty ones may take it as a threat if you wish: If no steps are taken, if I see one more AAU meet like this one—then I'm going to join the revolution which is, right now, incipient.
And if you think I'm only popping off, that nobody can budge your beaurocratic dictatorship and obtain a vote for the athlete in this democratic nation, then you did not hear all the disgusted complaints I heard from top coaches and athletes. You did not, as I did, hear a revolution suggested. You did not hear a world record holder offer to boycott the AAU "if it will help". You do not realize the interest the state department is taking in international athletics, nor the black eye our nation will receive in track and .. field due to the bungling at Dayton.
As I said above, we need an AAU—but we don't need this specific one.
Anyone out there been writing about track and field longer than Cordner? He will be in Indianapolis next month (June) for the nationals. Not sure if he will write anything there, but the sport owes a lot to Cordner Nelson.
In the August issue, Cordner prints a followup piece:
<<AN OPEN LETTER TO PINCUS SOBER
August 9, 1957
I have chosen to write to you, instead of any other AAU official, for three reasons:. (1) You are chairman of the national Track and Field Committee. (2) You are intelligent. (3) I have, for years, regarded you as a friend.
I recognized your high quality the first time we met. Do you remember that meeting, Pinky? It was in the AAU headquarters room at the old Willard Hotel in Washington, D. C., at the time of the 1950 AAU meet. At that time you were having a public controversy with Max Stiles in the pages of TRACK & FIELD NEWS concerning the legitimacy of Mel Patton's 20. 3.
You were in that room, along with several other AAU officials, and someone introduced us and stepped back with sort of a smirk and they were all silent, waiting for the fireworks. Well, there weren't any fireworks, and it wasn't because we practiced the usual social cowardice of avoiding the subject. We discussed it thoroughly, and we discussed another of my pet grievances, and we parted as friends.
You know I have avoided making a general criticism of the AAU and AAU officials. 1 understand the need for such an organization and I understand some of the handicaps of administration when some of your helpers are not paid employees. To the everlasting credit of the AAU, you have corrected most of the specific criticisms I have made, so that now, in addition to a new law governing anemometer readings, half milers have a day's rest before their final, and Negroes can win the Sullivan Award. As you well remember, Pinky, I applauded your courage in the Santee case even though I, more than most fans, wanted to see him go on to run 3:55.
I'm reminding you of all this at length, Pinky, because I'm afraid you'll be too quick to defend the AAU. I"m afraid you'll react defensively in this situation, instead of using the mature judgement you have exhibited in the past. I'm pointing out that anybody can criticize the AAU, but I have made only specific constructive criticism; and anybody can defend the AAU, but you have made specific constructive defenses in the form of improvements.
Last month I wrote a criticism of the way the national AAU meet was handled at Dayton. The response has been surprising. I have heard from many fans, coaches, athletes, and AAU officials, all approving my stand. Not one word has been said in defense of the AAU.
Here are some of the comments:
"Referring to your article in TRACK & FIELD NEWS in reference to the Dayton AAU meet ... you are so right. It was very poorly run in every respect. You would think that when a National event is held that every effort wrtijld be made to have ideal conditions and facilities. This is a sad situation for contestants and spectators. Thank you for saying the things you did in your article and I hope it will help to improve conditions
"Read you article in the July TRACK & FIELD NEWS and want to complement you on it. That meet at Dayton was the farce of the century. I think the iheet was a disgrace. "
"The announcer was one of the worst I ever heard, " said one fan, adding, "Occionally, on Saturday night, Mr. Pincus Sober took the mike and did a beautiful job."
'The Dayton meet was a real foul up. I second everything you mentioned in your report of the meet. "
From a prominent sports writer who covered the meet: "I greatly enjoyed your comment on the snafu at Dayton. My Lord, what a horrible mess"
One AAU official wrote: "It should be enough to touch off an investigation of the qualifications of all officials. I've had a good chance to learn the various weird methods used at finishes of close sprint races and also to pick up countless comments made by supposedly top officials, indicating that they know little about their jobs. Men who are respected by all, tactlessly describe their own inefficiency with a few words and then go out to prove them ... I Would like to point out that in the T&F Handbook prepared by the AAU, rule XII contains an item that states an Instruction School is to be conducted in each association. I have never heard nor seen of such . . . . I am ready to back you in any way I can."
"I have read and reread your account of the recent national championship meet at Dayton, Ohio. I want to congratulate you on your downright honesty and courage to state the facts and to offer constructive suggestions." Then he goes on to mention some mistakes I did not know about, including: "The men who measured the discus throws asked the contestants, 'Do you measure this from the outside of the ring or the inside of the ring?' I hope those who were at fault will take your good advice instead of resorting to self righteousness.
"I am hoping that the AAU will make some radical changes in its personnel and policies. I am convinced that with a good leader the AAU can lift up its head and be proud in front of the whole world
One internationally known man marked his letter "Confidential" and begaii "Please go ahead with the Revolution" He went on to outline the procedure to follow, based on experiences of a group outside the U S A
Another AAU official wrote: "Here's one guy who says 'amen' to your overdue castigation of the national AAU for faulty and slipshod supervision of is national track meets. Keep it up. ... I hope copies of your July issue are forthwith forwarded both to Dan Ferris and Pincus Sober and every other member of the national committee Personally, I think Sober will take action to correct these failings. Your suggestion for an experienced meet ger is the strongest one of all. Keep it up A revolution is brewing.
If the college coaches will all get together one year and blacklist this meet, then things will happen and fast"
"You are 100% correct, and will have any of the men who knowbehind you"
And last, but far from least, Max Stiles wrote in the Los Angeles MIRROR NEWS "Now is the time and I repeat, NOW for the dissolution of the Amateur Athletic Union and the organization of another group with similar functions, powers and responsibilities but without the arrogance, the hypocrisy, the stupidity and the incompetence of the one we have now." After those strong words, Stiles quoted most of my words from July "Track Talk", and ended with: "I want to stand up and be counted as one strongly for and with this revolution against the autocrats of the AAU. I, too, am for the athlete and the poor, helpless spectator."
That gives you some idea, Pinky, of what people are thinking. Many want a revolution, but I, personally, am not ready for revolt. A revolution of this kind— bloodless and affecting only a small segment of the population in a minor way is evidently a great deal of, fun to some people, but I can look into the future and see some of the drawbacks. I can visualize former friends in the enemy camp. I can imagine a world record disallowed because the athlete happened to belong to the group then unrecognized by the IAAF.
No, Pinky, a revolution would not be pleasant. A revolution is. the last resort Before that should come a fight for reform Not mere words, like mine, a real fight If the top athletes and coaches _joined forces in boycotting the AAU until they won the right to have some sort ofsay in governing them selves, the result would be satisfactory.
And yet there is still a better way, Pinky. The AAU could clean its own house. The best and simplest way would be to hire a good man to supervise the national meet. He would, as a matter of course, weed out inefficiency and make the other necessary improvements.
There it is, Pinky. The next move is up to you. I expect more letters from people offering to aid in the revolution, but I pledge myself to remain inactive until I hear that the AAU refuses to take this seriously. I appeal to your judgement, Pinky, for the sake of all you have worked for these many years.
So so's ya know we've made progress, the East Regional was SUPERBLY organized, announced and conducted. The heat sheets were on-line the day before (or earlier perhaps) and the events went like clockwork.
I find this quite fascinating as it is before my time and am much interested in what followed Cordner's efforts.
I am also quite interested in anything that anyone can share about Pincus Sober who was also before my time. I've heard occcasional references about him but have found very little written about him, either in print or on the Internet.