Article in Boston Globe  /  October 4, 1993  /  Author Joe Concannon

NEEDHAM - They threw a little 20th reunion party for the Greater Boston Track Club yesterday at the Sheraton Needham and, of course, there was a 5-mile road race that provided a proper entree to the festivities. They could have had a mini track meet up the street at Northeastern's Solomon Track, or even a cross-country run in the neighborhood. The GBTC in its heyday was all things to all runners. Even though the glory days of such American running giants as Bill Rodgers, Greg Meyer, Alberto Salazar, Randy Thomas and Bobby Hodge crested when the club was still in its growing stages, the carryovers to the new generation were reflected by the road race, the annual indoor track and field meet at Harvard, the GBTC relays and weekly workouts for club members.

The idea of the club came out of a meeting presided over by Jack McDonald in a locker room at Boston College on Aug. 5, 1973. He and six others were brazen enough to suggest that former intercollegiate runners had no place to run. Bill Squires, who was the coach at Boston State, volunteered to serve as the coach, without pay. Out of such humble beginnings grew a club that developed an international reputation. Rodgers won the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon four times each.

The 1979 Boston finish showed GBTC members Rodgers winning, Hodge third, newly appointed BC head coach Thomas sixth and Weymouth mailman Dick Mahoney 10th.

"Since then," said GBTC historian Larry Newman, "no individual club has come close to putting four runners in the top 10 in a major marathon. You talk about clubs and coaching being a little bit ahead of its time and that was it." "We had very, very talented collegiate people who were training terribly," said Squires. "I learned from the Europeans who laughed at the US running culture. I felt we could go to Madison Square Garden and compete in the low 2-mile relay. We did, but little did we know before the winter was over we'd be in the high 2-mile relay. Heartbreak Hill to them was a pancake. They lived on it.

"I was lucky I had the access I had. This club had 20 or 30 athletes who were nationally or internationally prominent. When I heard about what the Chinese are doing, they must be wondering what we were doing 20 years ago. The American record was 2:14 in the marathon, and within two years there were four kids who had broken that and they were all in the Boston area who were on multivitamin pills. No club in America ever won 17 national titles in four years." Kirk Pfrangle, who ran at Tufts and is teaching high school history/social studies in Atlanta, flew in for the reunion. "I haven't been back to Boston in eight years," said Pfrangle. "I don't know how I became a member. I just remember sitting in a room at BC." Pam Duckworth was also an early member, a pioneer who oversees the masters women's program. "We haven't had as many high-calibre runners," said Duckworth, "but there's been a corps that's stayed around. I've met a lot of friends."

Mahoney, who helped out as women's cross-country coach at BC, talked about the humble beginnings. "We all wanted to keep running beyond college days," he said, "and it blossomed into something more than we dreamed of at the time.

There were a few other coaches in the area, but coach Squires stepped forward.

We followed his instructions. He told us what to do. We didn't understand most of it, but we just kept doing it."

"Anybody who has ever been coached by Squires wonders if you can interpret everything he's saying to you," said Meyer. He said his wife Paula was talking to former GBTC elite runner Mike Roach and Paula said she was starting to worry about Greg. "Why?" asked Roach. She answered, "He's starting to understand Squires." Meyer said, "Sponsors came in and stole some of us. It was good for us at the time, but when I look back at it now it really destroyed our sport." The club put on the now-defunct Freedom Trail race, and graduates such as McDonald, Thomas and Mahoney (BC), Bob Sevene (BAA), Hodge (Lowell), Meyer (BU) and Bill Clark (Commonwealth) went on to coaching success. "I salute you 100 percent," said Rodgers to the membership at the brunch. "I was happy to be along for the ride. You gave encouragement to people getting started in the sport. I had great fun."

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