EDITOR’S NOTE: Col. Tony Lackey ’61 has been around Citadel Athletics since the mid-1950s and provides a weekly blog on some of the sports highlights that he recalls.
By Col. Tony Lackey ‘61
As told to Andy Solomon
Fans may not realize this, but one of The Citadel’s most successful sports is track and field as we captured three consecutive Southern Conference championships from 1959-61. I know that track and field is nearly year-round with cross country in the fall and indoor track and field in the winter, but track and field in the spring, to us in the Corps, was the big season.
Back then, our teams practiced and hosted meets at Willson Field, which was turfed not too long ago and re-named the Maybank Triplets Practice Facility at Willson Field. Like it is now, the football team practiced on the grass field inside the circular track, but the surface then was pretty good and we hosted two or three meets each spring.
During the various spring meets, the Southern Conference opponents included the likes of West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Richmond, East Carolina and several others, including VMI, Davidson and Furman. It was a very challenging and competitive league, and track and field was no different.
We had roughly 23 guys on the team, five or so played football and two or three were on the basketball team. Overall, the track team was comprised of highly-respected and well-represented individuals from all battalions. Many were on scholarship.
What I remember is that our track meets drew a crowd. The results appeared in the local newspaper, both The News & Courier (morning) and The Charleston Evening Post (afternoon). Many times the paper would send a staff writer to cover it.
But we had the companies on campus come out in big numbers to watch their classmates. It wasn’t unusual to have 500-600 fans from the Corps attend and cheer on the Bulldogs at a home meet.
Bill Snyder, from R Company, participated in the 120-yard high hurdles and Fuzz Saunders from T Company also participated in that event. Those two guys were fun to watch.
Bill, who was a tall guy, would normally knock over three or four hurdles during the straight-away on the track and we nicknamed him “Big Bumbler.” It became a sight to see as to how many hurdles he’d kick over, but he’d still be in contention to win. And he won a lot.
The Corps loved to watch Bill and the hurdles and it evolved into a great relationship between the Corps and the track team.
John Rivers, a member of our Athletic Hall of Fame, was another who was fun to watch. He ran the 440-yard dash for four years and never lost. Not once. He always finished first. He, too, was a big draw.
Jim Pugh, another Hall of Famer, was popular for his 100-yard and 220-yard sprints. So was Bill Sickels (a descendent of Gen. Dan Sickels of the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg fame), another member of our Hall of Fame. Tandy Rice, who I believe once held the State of Tennessee’s record in the mile, specialized in the mile run. He was also a very competitive swimmer (and the pool was in the back of the old Armory – now called McAlister Field House).
Others I remember who stood out, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some, were Jerry Nettles, our star quarterback who was a terrific javelin thrower and Tom Metsger, a Hall of Famer who was portrayed in the movie “We Were Soldiers,” was a top pole vaulter.
Our coach was Bill Dellastantious in 1957-60, and assistant football coach Jack Hall guided the team to the conference title in 1961.
Track and field was a popular sport during my cadet years and it is my hope that we – one day soon – have enough money to re-do Willson Field so we can again host track meets. And I feel certain that they’d draw a crowd from the Corps, too.