Long Lasting Reunion
Sept. 6, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The last time Tom Rupp, Lloyd Koby, Grant Cookson, Al Frame and Ray Wyatt ran a cross country or track and field or event for Kansas, there were just 48-states in the union and a gallon of gas cost a little less than a quarter, but constantly changing times have not stopped this spirited group of men from gathering twice a year to reminisce about the good `ole days. One of those times, was this past weekend at Rim Rock Farm, site of the Bob Timmons Classic
“We have gotten old, but this does not get old one bit,” said Tom Rupp, who ran cross country at KU from 1953-56. “It is really great the camaraderie we have developed over the years and that is a signature I think of the coach (Bill) Easton era, that he built close teams.”
The reunion is something that a number of 1950’s runners have been taking part in for more than a decade now, once on Labor Day weekend and another during the Kansas Relays in the spring.
“It is great to see the young athletes here and such a good generation coming on like this,” said Sedgwick County native Lloyd Koby, who now calls Hot Springs Village, Arkansas home. “I think this is the first year that I have seen, since I have been coming here that teamwork is so prevalent.”
Koby stood by the finish line at Rim Rock Farm to watch the Kansas men take first place honors at the Timmons Classic on Saturday. “It was good to see out at the mile all the KU runners in a bunch, then coming in the way they did up near the front,” Koby said. “Team effort is definitely the key to track.”
The aspect of teamwork is not lost on former KU track and field standout Grant Cookson (1953-57), who ran cross country for one year in 1954. “We had a really close knit group of guys, so that is why it is so great to get together. We really look forward to coming back every year,” he said.
But of course as cross country legend Al Frame (1953-57), remembers, that teamwork could sometimes backfire on you when you least expected it.
“When I was a senior, the conference cross country meet was at Iowa State,” Frame remembers. “So of course we were walking the course the day before to get familiar with it. I was telling my other teammates; `You want to watch your footing down here’, as we came down this hill, `because when you turn right away, there is a dangerous spot where you might fall down.’ Well guess who fell down at that very spot where I said be careful?” Frame laughed as he admitted he was the one who ended up on the ground that day.
While memories like the Iowa State meet brought smiles and laughter to the five cross country legends over the weekend, there were others that conjured up heavy hearts.
“This is our first reunion we are having without Wes (Santee) and it is pretty sad,” said Ray Wyatt, who ran from 1955-58 at KU. Santee passed away last November at the age 78, and was one of the greatest long distance runners ever to come through the Kansas program.
“Wes was quite a character and was beloved by all who knew him,” Wyatt remembered. “He would do anything for you and he would do anything for the track program. “
“To compete with him was like having a hero run in front of you,” Rupp so vividly remembered about running on the heels of the legendary Santee. “He was just such a great leader for us young kids, as Al (Frame) and I were just straight out of high school.”
While there was time spent talking about the past Saturday, and those who were not there this year, there was also much discussion about the present and future of the Kansas cross country and track and field programs.
“I think that they are better athletes now,” Cookson said. “The training is more intense and they are just superior athletes all together.”
Still, Cookson believes his presence along with the four others from the 1950’s on Saturday, gives the current members of the cross country team a better idea of the historic legacy they are now a part of.
“I think Kansas has a great tradition in track,” Cookson said. “Runners today can look back at some of the national championships that were won and they can relate to that.”
Regardless of the history, all members of the Kansas cross country and track and field program, past and present, have one thing in common. Former runner Ray Wyatt perhaps summed it up best.
“KU is a big part of all of our lives,” he said. “We appreciated the time we spent here and the friendships we made.”
Perhaps many years down the road, current cross country athletes such as Donny Wasinger or Rebeka Stowe, will carry on the tradition of the legendary runners from the 50’s and be hosting similar reunions and reminiscing about their time in Lawrence, competing for KU.