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Ted Haydon of the Chicago Track Club takes a backseat to no one as a friend and counselor of athletes

It is five o'clock on a Thursday afternoon in Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side. Ellsworth Pennington III, 50, wearing a sweat suit over a shirt and a carefully knotted black knit tie, is well into his third workout of the day. He has finished a six-mile warmup jog on the grass around the perimeter of the University of Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg Field and he has hopped a left-legged 220 on its all-weather track. Now he is shinnying, with consummate ease, up a soccer goalpost at the south end of the field while a dozen raggedy little boys, who have been using the high-jump pit as a trampoline, stop to gape.

Who is Ellsworth Pennington III, and why is he doing these things?

"Honey," says Olympic long-jumper Willye White, who has been practicing starts and is now in the third row of the gray wooden grandstand, unwinding an Ace bandage from her knee, "you'll have to ask him that. Nobody knows why Penny does anything."

Pennington is an eccentric but valued member of the University of Chicago Track Club. When fund-raising time comes around each year he passes his cap among his co-workers at a dog-food factory and returns with $20 or $30, which makes him one of the club's major contributors.

Rick Wohlhuter, 26, world-record holder at 880 yards and 1,000 meters, has finished a day of hustling insurance in Chicago and has jogged to Stagg Field from his apartment on South Shore Drive. His is a light workout today—stretching, jogging and some 220s to keep the kinks out—because in the morning he will be leaving for a meet on the West Coast, where he will attempt to lower his world record for the half mile.

Wohlhuter is a slight man, but in his black warmups with narrow red stripes down the side, he stands out from the tatterdemalion legion of runners, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers who mill around him, a thoroughbred colt amid a herd of shaggy ponies.

"Who's that?" asks a girl runner, new to the Stagg Field practices.

"That's Rick Wohlhuter, the worldrecord half-miler," says a white-haired man, who happens to be his coach.

"I knew he had to be some kind of dude to be wearin' an outfit like that."

Andrew Goodman, 12, chess player, stamp collector, oboist and distance runner, is in the seventh grade at the university's lab school. He has been running with the club since he was 10, and his best time for the mile is 5:43. He averages 30 miles a week, even in winter, but today, because he has a friend along who is new to the game, he has jogged only four miles on the Tartan track.

Andrew once described the place running holds in his life to a Chicago Tribune reporter. "This is only a hobby," he said, "perhaps my largest hobby, but if a best friend had a birthday party or something, I'd go to it instead of working out."

Tom Bryan is a business major at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1971 he was an NAIA All-America as a half-miler. But Loras wasn't comfortable for black students in those days, so Bryan dropped out for a while. Now he is 26 and back in school, but when he's home in Chicago during the summer, Stagg Field is the focus of his days. There are people to talk to and kid around with.

Balanced lightly on his bicycle seat, the toe of one running shoe touching a pedal, the other stretched to the ground, wearing a chain for locking his bike like a bandolier across his chest, Bryan throws a calculatedly sleepy look sideways at the white-haired coach, who pretends not to be listening, and drawls mockingly in his high, reedy voice, "Let's just say that Ted Haydon is a credit to his sport."

That draws an appreciative chuckle from Haydon, a big, pink-faced man in a spotted windbreaker and dirty golf cap with stopwatch strings hanging from all his pockets. Edward Morgan Haydon, 63, can squeeze a week's worth of activity into an 18-hour day, but the greatest of his talents is looking, at any one moment, as though he has nothing at all to do. Margaret Mead once suggested that a flock of her fellow anthropologists be assigned to follow Haydon for a few days to figure out how he operates, but no such flock has ever gotten itself into good enough condition to try.

Haydon is a ragtime piano-playing sociologist who coaches the University of Chicago's varsity track team for a living. Twenty-five years ago he founded the University of Chicago Track Club to give athletes who had graduated a chance to keep on competing. But one thing led to another, as they will with Haydon around, and the UCTC (pronounced yoocy-teecy by its members) developed into one of the most extraordinary athletic clubs in the country. It attracts out-of-school athletes from all over the Midwest while at the same time providing training facilities and competition for Chicago-area runners of all ages and skills who otherwise would have to do without. Through it all Haydon has been the low-keyed driving force.

"Ted is best behind the lines," says Wohlhuter. "He's the kind of guy who will do the work and let the others take the credit. I run, and get all the publicity, but he's part of what I have done, maybe a big part."

Within the hierarchy of U.S. track and field, however, Haydon's abilities have been recognized for years. He was coach of the American distance runners at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and again at Munich in 1972; in 1958 he managed the first American track team ever to compete in the Soviet Union; he was head coach for the U.S. team in the 1961 Maccabiah Games, and track and field chairman for the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago.

At Mexico City, Jim Ryun met Haydon in a practice area about half an hour before the 1,500-meter final. Ryun said, "Say a little prayer for me, Ted." Haydon said he would, and Ryun started down toward the field. He was delayed at a registration desk, and the two met again in the tunnel leading to the track. Haydon said, "Jim, I've decided I'm not going to say a prayer for you after all." Ryun, mildly surprised, asked, "Why not?" "Because," said Haydon, "I'm going to save that for something important." After the Olympics, Ryun wrote Haydon a note, saying that was the best thing he could have heard at the moment, that it put things into perspective.

Haydon's club has produced a world-record half-miler in Wohlhuter and a world-record two-mile relay team in Tom Bach, Ken Sparks, Lowell Paul and Wohlhuter. UCTC has a five-time national champion in triple jumper John Craft, and it has had nine athletes on four Olympic teams—shotputter Brian Old-field, pole vaulter Jan Johnson, sprinter Ira Murchison, steeplechasers Deacon Jones and Phil Coleman, hurdler Willie May and race walker Chris McCarthy, besides Wohlhuter and Craft.

Because of Haydon and UCTC the university's facilities—Stagg Field and the cavernous old Fieldhouse, with its 220-yard dirt track—are open all year round. The club puts on 30 open track competitions a year, ranging from the big Holiday Meet in December, which last year drew 517 participants, to a series of Sunday development meets outdoors in the spring that provide competition for those who are not up to the level of the club's regular Saturday affairs.

The program is an ambitious one, but there are no frills. The University of Chicago newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, reported UCTC's premier event last spring almost resignedly: "The 1975 Stagg relays, like most track meets involving the UC Track Club, was aimed almost entirely at the meet's participants; spectators were, as usual, superfluous. No public address system was set up...a program was not provided...the audience had the devil's own time telling who was doing what."

"In our organization," says Haydon, "the whole emphasis is at the competition level, the athlete's level, and everything else is kind of rinkydink."

This year Haydon was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in Charleston, W. Va. At the ceremonies Ken Doherty, former track coach at Michigan and Pennsylvania, said of the UCTC coach: "In the year 2000 we will look back and realize that the most significant contribution to the improvement of U.S. track and field during the past century was made by the University of Chicago Track Club...Ted Haydon has shown us the way."

Haydon is the second of three sons of A. Eustace Haydon, one of the founders of the modern humanist movement, who at his death last April at 95 was professor emeritus of comparative religion at the University of Chicago. At the time of Ted's birth in 1912 Eustace Haydon was a Baptist preacher in Saskatoon who had been an amateur lacrosse player and Canadian pole-vault champion and who, according to his son, was being "more or less read out of the Baptist Church" because of his growing humanism. In 1917 Eustace moved his family to Chicago where, in 1918, he received his Ph.D. from the university and joined the faculty.

As faculty offspring, the Haydon boys, Harold, Ted and Brownlee, were entitled to attend the university's lab elementary school, but instead their father sent them to Fisk, the public school across the street from their home in the Woodlawn section just south of the grassy Midway, where Little Egypt twitched bewitchingly at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

"That's where I learned most everything," Haydon says. "I played so much marbles on the Fisk school playground that my mother had to make a linoleum kneepad for my pants. We had kids from the Jewish orphanage a block away and tough kids from the 63rd Street area. It was a mixture, and it was a very good experience."

Later, as a student at the university high school and as an undergraduate at Chicago, Haydon ran the hurdles, threw the hammer and was captain of the track team. In the summers he worked as a counselor at a boys' camp in Canada, where he led campers on canoe trips in the wilderness. On his days off he went on more canoe trips just to see how much he could take. "I used to think I was an iron man, see. One time I went 28½ hours nonstop."

He graduated from Chicago in 1933, in the pit of the Depression, and won a scholarship to do graduate work in sociology. A year or so later, when one of his professors told him of a job open in community work, he left the university, and from 1935 until 1950, through Depression and war, was a practicing sociologist. He was a street worker in Chicago's Near North and Near Northwest sides among low-income Italians, Mexicans and blacks, operating on the then-revolutionary premise that the disadvantaged could be stimulated to organize themselves to improve their own lot. The program, conducted by Sociologist Clifford R. Shaw, was called the Chicago Area Projects, and it served as an early model for some of the social activism of the 1960s. It was funded by the Illinois Department of Public Welfare, employed such distinguished young sociologists as Saul Alinsky and Joseph Lohman and operated out of storefront offices in the neighborhoods. In 1935, in an office a few steps down from the sidewalk at 316 Oak Street on the Near North Side, Haydon was earning $135 a month for working 16-to-20-hour days.

"It was a very stimulating, perhaps overstimulating, program," he says. And finally it began to wear him down. "I'd come home for dinner and my wife would say, 'You look gray,' and I'd say, 'I feel fine, I've got to go back out for a meeting.' " Because the meetings were with working people, they began late, after work and dinner, and ended late, often adjourning to a bowling alley until even later. Haydon's days, all seven of them, usually began at six in the morning and ended around two the next morning. In 1947, at the age of 35, he began to show signs of cracking.

"One day I was giving a talk to a ladies' group about discrimination against blacks and so on," Haydon says, "and, I don't know, I just realized that those ladies weren't the least bit interested—not sincerely, anyway—and I walked out in the middle of my talk. It was kind of a surprise to me, too."

Haydon's doctor described his symptoms as the civilian equivalent of battle fatigue and prescribed a new way of life—a highball before dinner, nine hours of sleep a night, 30 mg. of vitamin B a day, an occasional weekend off and exercise. Haydon continued in community work for three more years, mornings and evenings, but in the late afternoons he took time to stop off at the University of Chicago Fieldhouse to work out. He was too old for the hurdles by then, but he threw the hammer and gradually became a sort of volunteer assistant to his old college coach, Ned Merriam. In 1950 Merriam, who was ill and about to retire, asked Haydon if he would like to take over, and Haydon, seeing an opportunity to finish the master's degree he had begun in 1933, took the job.

"One day after I left social work I saw Saul Alinsky, who was by that time with the Back of the Yards Council," Haydon says. "He said, 'What are you doing back in the ivory tower?' I said, 'In social work you go round in circles. Now I get points for it.' " Haydon paused. "Alinsky's dead now, of course. Joe Lohman is dead. That's a hard racket. I'd probably be dead now, too, if I'd stayed in that work."

In his first year in his new job Haydon founded the track club and persuaded the university to open its facilities, first to alumni and others connected with the university who wanted to work out, and then to more and more athletes from every background whose common need was help to keep going. He was paid then, and still is, only for coaching the Chicago varsity and teaching a couple of classes in the physical education department. He runs the track club almost on his own.

Haydon does rely on a small volunteer army of people like lawyer Arthur McLendon; a young college coach named F. Lee Slick; a 74-year-old former Boys Club official, Anthony Nicolette; and Jack Bolton, a construction superintendent in his 60s who was a world-class miler in the 1930s. These and a dozen or so like them show up at 8:30 a.m. on the day of a meet to rake out the sandpits and set up the hurdles and time the finishes, and they remain to help until the sun has gone down and the Port-a-Pit and the ticket booths have been stowed away in the Fieldhouse. During a meet, if there is an extra medal for the taking, some of them will jump into the competition. Slick throws the hammer, Bolton runs in Masters distance races, McLendon is a walker. But most of the time they work.

"My theory is," Haydon says, "if you look helpless, somebody's going to help you."

Haydon looks most helpless in the paper confusion of his office in Bartlett Gym, a sort of clerical compost heap with a 20-foot ceiling and a dusty schoolroom clock that stopped at 3:24 some months or years ago. Piles of letters not yet answered and schedules and programs and back issues of track magazines spill over onto an adjoining desk that is unoccupied, as if long ago a timid office mate had retreated in the face of the approaching deluge. Dozens of trophies covered with a layer of fine dust are on shelves, in cabinets, under tables and on the seat of an overstuffed armchair with lumpy brown cushions. A cardboard carton filled with mangled squash racquets rests under a coatrack, along with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol and an old maroon warm-up jacket with U OF C STAFF embroidered across the heart (Haydon says, "They give them to phys ed teachers just in case they forget who they are").

Howls of anguish come from the handball court next door, and sneakered feet pound on the running track overhead. Everything seems hopelessly out of control, yet from seeming chaos emerges one of the biggest track programs in the country. The New York Athletic Club sponsors no meets, the Pacific Coast Club is essentially a very effective booking agency for an exclusive troupe of about 20 stars. The only club that is comparable to UCTC is the Oregon Track Club in Eugene, which also uses a university's facilities and reaches out into the surrounding community, offering programs and asking for assistance. But the community that surrounds the Oregon Track Club is a medium-size college town with medium-size problems. UCTC exists in the middle of a huge urban ghetto with massive problems rising out of bad housing, poverty, joblessness. Across Cottage Grove Avenue from the west end of Stagg Field is Washington Park, where cross-country runners train and where the body of a woman was found in a ravine during a UCTC competition. Yet at Stagg Field there have been no instances of real vandalism.

"When they put in the all-weather track," says Haydon, "I thought we'd see 'Mighty Blackstone Rangers' or something painted on it, but it never happened. They put a fence around the field, but the only person it ever kept out was me. I was the only one who couldn't climb it."

Stagg Field in the summer and the Fieldhouse in the winter have become neighborhood recreation centers just as surely as the storefronts and church basements of the Near North Side were. Every afternoon children with pails and shovels dig in the sand of the long-jump pit as runners patter by.

"We know that if the little kids play in the sandboxes there'll be no glass and broken bottles," says Haydon. "The mommas will take care of that."

The workouts Haydon prescribes for his athletes are based on quality rather than volume, and they are basically the same for a 1:44 half-miler like Wohlhuter and, say, Julian Brown, a sophomore miler on Haydon's Chicago varsity whose major, "disciplines in the humanities," requires substantial amounts of reading.

"You can't read for many hours if you run a lot," says Brown. "I do 10 miles a week at most, and that's down from 15 miles a day in high school. This method works just as well, and I can study better."

The pattern for each runner is the same; only the times are different. "The emphasis is on getting each one to improve, whether he's good, bad or indifferent to start with," says Haydon. "We don't tell a guy to go out and run 10 miles or jog 20. We'd rather see him run six quarters at 70 seconds than five miles at six minutes a mile. If he's running 70-second quarters he's always running a 4:40-mile pace, and if he's ever going to be any good, he's going to have to be able to do that."

The program suits Wohlhuter because he has perennial tendon problems and cannot train more than 50 miles a week without risking injury. It also suits Tom Messer, a Chicago freshman who ran distances from 440 yards to two miles this past season and dropped out of almost every race. Messer is fragile looking, with lank blond hair down to his hunched shoulders, deep-set darting eyes and a habit of chewing on two or three fingernails at the same time. As he sees it, quitting a race is the reasonable thing to do if he is not running as well as he should. His high school coach threw him off the team, as almost any coach would. Haydon has not.

"Anybody can go out and finish all his races," Haydon says, his mouth beginning to move into the curl that precedes a chuckle, "but how many have got guts enough to drop out all the time? I give him a lot of credit for having enough personal autonomy to do it. And I'll bet you money that before he's a senior he'll be a helluva runner because I think he'll respond to the kind of treatment he's getting. In the meantime he considers me a real good friend and I consider him an interesting person."

Haydon rarely uses the word "amateur," at least not in the reverent manner of the late Avery Brundage. Haydon and Brundage were poles apart in their personal philosophies, but they were merely different sides of the same coin in their feeling for amateur sport. Brundage imposed his ideas; Haydon makes his available. The Brundage way was like a formal dinner with Avery at the head of the table. Haydon's is a potluck supper. He hires the hall and brings the beer, but everybody contributes.

"Even as recently as 10 years ago, nine out of 10 guys just quit when college was over," says Bob Steele, a 30-year-old former Michigan State hurdler who has been running with UCTC for five years. "I would say Ted has kept something like 80 to 100 national-level athletes going who otherwise would have quit."

Last year it took $32,000 to keep UCTC going. Some of the money came from meet directors who paid travel expenses for outstanding performers such as Wohlhuter, Craft, Johnson and Paul. Some came from the Mayor Daley Youth Foundation, which supports local track and field. But most is contributed, usually in units as small as $10 or $20, by those on a list of some 600 interested supporters. Each year they receive a form letter that reports the club's accomplishments, and to which Haydon adds a short personal note. The mailing is a huge chore that Haydon and his cheerful schoolteacher wife Golde handle by themselves from the dining-room table in their brick two-family house in the South Shore section of Chicago.

Before each out-of-town meet Haydon figures the total cost of transportation, housing and meals for the team, estimates how much he will be able to raise toward expenses from the meet promoter and the Mayor Daley Youth Foundation and how much the club can afford to contribute. Then Haydon divides the difference among the athletes who are going. The trip to Eugene for the national AAU championships in June cost each athlete $150 out of total expenses of $365.

Haydon's card file of loyal contributors, combined with his policy of asking the athletes to pay part of their own expenses, is what keeps the club in business when others fail. The Southern California Striders, for a time the strongest track and field club in the country, once qualified 45 athletes for a meet in New York. "They were out for the team title," says Haydon, "and they had recruited all the college athletes who were just out of school." Getting all 45 to New York put the club in such a financial hole it never got out. "You can only do so much and stay in business," Haydon says. "If we had paid for the trip to Eugene without asking the runners to contribute we'd be broke or else we would have had to leave several guys home."

Haydon's thick, powerful hands, which have moved a thousand hurdles and paddled a thousand miles, can also manipulate a golf club, cast a fly, play ragtime and paint landscapes in oils. The landscapes are of lakes and woods, particularly the woods surrounding Cable Lake on the peninsula of Upper Michigan where Ted and Golde spend occasional weeks in the summer. At the center of each picture there is usually a little log cabin, painted red, with a clothesline to one side. In front of the cabin on the water's edge is a dock, and overhead are small gray-white clouds. Haydon's brother Harold, an artist and art critic for the Chicago Sun-limes, says Ted is improving—that his clouds look less like little gray automobiles scooting across the sky than they used to.

At Cable Lake relaxation is painting and fishing. At home in Chicago it is playing the piano and getting in a few holes of golf now and then or, more accurately, thinking about getting in a few holes of golf now and then. Haydon's golf clubs and a handcart are moved from the basement of his house into the trunk of his car in March each year, about the same time the team moves out of the Fieldhouse and onto Stagg Field. Some years the golf clubs stay untouched in the trunk until fall.

"Fall is nice in Chicago," says Haydon. "Sometimes, when all that's going on is cross-country, I can finish up my morning classes and go out and play a little golf. Twelve holes maybe, and then I go have coffee and a hot dog and talk to people."

Haydon fully intends to retire, sometime. "The last thing I want is to drop dead out there," he says, waving in the general direction of Stagg Field from a booth in the back of a restaurant that is one of his "joints." "However," he says, over the pot roast special, "if my freshman quarter-miler who ran 48.6 suddenly runs 45.8 I might decide it would be fun to stay around another year."

On Ellis Avenue, near the corner of 56th Street on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park, there is a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore called Nuclear Energy. It marks the place where Enrico Fermi and his colleagues in 1942 achieved the first self-sustaining chain reaction, and thereby changed the world.

A couple of blocks west on 56th Street is Stagg Field with its all-weather track and gray wooden grandstand. The field is enclosed with a high chain-link fence, but the gate in the fence is open, which is Ted Haydon's way of saying there's more than one way to change the world.