Rohe Track Era All About Us!


CHAPTER 7
THE CHUCK ROHE ERA, 1963-1967
(Continued)


1967 Outdoor Track Season

When Tennessee began the 1967 outdoor season only co-captains David Storey and Bubba Beal, and distance runner John Ellington remained from the Vol team that put Tennessee on top in the South. One other member of the old team, Bill Sellmer, also remained as a student assistant coach. Hurdler Roger Neiswender, sprinter Carroll Thrift, and distance runner David Storey were the only NCAA veterans.

Earlier in the spring it had been ruled that freshmen could compete with the varsity in spring sports but if they did compete they would not be allowed to participate in the NCAA meet during their freshman and senior years. Due to the use of freshmen Florida would be able to defeat Tennessee in an early-season triangular meet, but Coach Rohe had decided that he was not going to use any of his freshmen in varsity meets. This decision was definitely made with the 1970 NCAA meet in mind, but was not an easy decision because it put the Vols at risk of losing the SEC meet in 1967.

1967 Tennessee vs. Florida State Meet

The Volunteers opened the outdoor season with a victory over Florida State by 85 to 55. A host of sophomores were impressive in the victory.

1967 Tennessee vs Florida and Southern Illinois Meet

Continuing their summer-like trip in the warm Florida sunshine of late March, the trackmen traveled to Gainesville where an inspired Florida team won over both Tennessee and Southern Illinois. The score was Florida 76, Tennessee 66, and Southern Illinois 39. This was the first loss for Coach Rohe’s Volunteers since 1964. Even in defeat two young sophomores were outstanding – Larry Kelly won the 880 in 1:48.6 (the fastest time to date in the United States) and Richmond Flowers won the high hurdles with a 13.8 clocking. Kelly at one time had held the national high school half-mile record and Flowers currently held the national high school high hurdles record. Another fine performance was turned in by freshman Hardee McAlhaney who ran 440 yards in 47.1 seconds for a new school record.

1967 Florida Relays

To end the Florida trip Tennessee participated in the Florida Relays and broke four records as they ran away with the meet and avenged their loss to the Florida Gators. Highlights were:

  • Richmond Flowers won the 120 high hurdles and established a record of
    13,6 in the semi-finals
  • George Moschis won the javelin with a record throw of 244’- 3”
  • Carroll Thrift, Russ Whitenack, Gary Wagner, and Richmond Flowers won
    the 440 yard relay in a record time of 40.6
  • Carroll Thrift, Russ Whitenack, Gary Wagner, and Larry Kelly won the
    sprint medley relay in a record time of 3:18.9, due in great part to Kelly’s
    1:47.6 half mile
Though not winning, other school records were set by:
  • Steve Deaton, Norm Witek, Butch Stewart, and Henry Rose with a 7:26.1
    time in the two-mile relay
  • Bob Dickson, Norm Witek, Henry Rose, and Larry Kelly with a 3:10.5 time
    in the mile relay, highlighted by Kelly’s 45.5 leg


1967 Tennessee vs. Ohio and Notre Dame Meet

The first home meet of 1967 resulted in a victory on the new Tom Black Track over Ohio and Notre Dame. Through a generous donation by Tom Black, a prominent Knoxvillian, a 9-lane Olympic track was constructed of a thermoplastic material called Tartan on the UT campus. As 5,000 fans looked on, Larry Kelly defeated NCAA place winner Pete Farrell of Notre Dame in the half-mile and came back to defeat a tough John Tillman of Ohio on the anchor leg of the mile relay. Other winners for the Vols were sophomores Richmond Flowers in the high hurdles (13.8), Bob Dickson in the 440 (48.3), Les Rager in the discus (162’- 10”), George Moschis in the javelin (206’ 8½”), and Steve Owens in the pole vault (15’-0”). Veteran weightman Courtney Fagen scored 7 points in the shot put, discus, and hammer.

1967 Kentucky Relays

Tennessee broke a world record at the Kentucky Relays, but lost the shuttle hurdle relay to an even faster Western Michigan team. Steve Keltner, Pat Murphy, Roger Neiswender, and Richmond Flowers combined for a 56.9 for 480 yards of hurdles. Meet records were set by George Moschis in the javelin (240’ 0’); the two-mile relay team of Norm Witek, Butch Stewart, Henry Rose, and Larry Kelly (7:26.7); the freshman mile relay team of Gregg Robinson, Jim Smeltzer, Tom Brown, and Hardee McAlhaney (3:14.8); and the 440 yard relay team of Carroll Thrift, Chick McGeehan, Gary Wagner, and Richmond Flowers (40.8). Additional victories were turned in for the Vols by the varsity mile relay team of Norm Witek, Butch Stewart, Bob Dickson, and Larry Kelly; hurdler Richmond Flowers in 13.5, a school record; and freshman Hardee McAlhaney with a 1:17.5 in the 660 yard run, another Tennessee school record.

1967 Dogwood Relays

The next home meet was the Dogwood Relays, which was hosted by the University of Tennessee. This was the outstanding sports event of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Dogwood Arts Festival. A crowd of 7,500 turned out to see the spectacular “Big Orange” track stars of Coach Rohe, as well as many Olympic stars such as Ralph Boston, John Thomas, and Paul Drayton. Boston broad jumped 27-0¾ and Thomas high jumped 6-10¼ but the Volunteers were not to be outdone.

Richmond Flowers drew the greatest applause from the crowd as he won the high hurdles race over rival Leon Coleman. Cross-country captain Bob Barber won the 3,000 meter steeplechase in 9:31.4; the 440 yard relay team of Carroll Thrift, Chick McGeehan, Gary Wagner, and Richmond Flowers won in 40.6 seconds; the 880 yard relay team of Thrift, McGeehan, Wagner, and Don Graham won in 1:26.4; and the shuttle hurdle relay team of Steve Keltner, Roger Neiswender, Pat Murphy, and Richmond Flowers won in 57.0 seconds.

First place watches were also won by the sprint medley relay team of Thrift, Wagner, Bob Dickson, and Henry Rose as Rose lunged through the tape for a 3:21.9 time. The freshman two-mile relay team of Tom Brown, Tony Masi, Jim Smeltzer, and Hardee McAlhaney was victorious; and the freshman distance medley team of David Wamer, David Scire, and Dickie Kleier also won.

In the Dogwood Relay field events Les Rager was the only Tennessee winner, throwing the discus 166’ 5”.

Ohio Relays

At Columbus, Ohio, for the Ohio Relays, Richmond Flowers had one of his best days. He won the 120 yard high hurdles with a wind-aided 13.4; teamed with Carroll Thrift, Chick McGeehan, and Gary Wagner in winning the 440 yard relay; and teamed with Roger Neiswender, Steve Keltner, and Pat Murphy to win the shuttle hurdle relay. As in many relay meets, there was no team scoring, but unofficially Tennessee was the winner.

Penn Relays

At the famous Penn Relays the Vols broke two meet records in winning three events and set two school records in losing efforts. George Moschis hurled the javelin 248’-10½” for a new Penn Relays record. Larry Kelly anchored the sprint medley relay team to another Penn Relays record of 3:17.8 as he ran a 1:46.8 half-mile to complete the job Carroll Thrift, Gary Wagner, and Bob Dickson had started. Another victory was turned in by the shuttle hurdle relay team of Roger Neiswender, Pat Murphy, Steve Keltner, and Richmond Flowers.

Tennessee’s mile relay team of Russ Whitenack, Norm Witek, Bob Dickson, and Larry Kelly set a school record of 3:10.3 in the preliminaries. Les Rager set another school record in the discus at 171’ 10” as he placed fourth.

1967 TIAC Meet

In the Tennessee Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (TIAC) meet Tennessee won easily over the other state universities. Pat Murphy won the 440 intermediate hurdles in 53.4 seconds; Roger Neiswender won the 120 high hurdles in 13.9; Butch Stewart won the 880 in 1:52.5; Bob Barber won the three-mile run in 14:40.9; Larry Kelly won the mile in 4:09.9; Courtney Fagen won the shot put at 50-10½; Steve Keltner won the long jump at 23-10¼; Steve Owens won the pole vault at 14-0½ and then in an exhibition vaulted 16’; and Les Rager won the discus at 163-10½. In a freshman mile, four Vol runners broke 4:15 with Dickie Kleier winning at 4:11.5.

Vol relay teams were also victorious as the 440 unit of Carroll Thrift, Chick McGeehan, Gary Wagner, and Russ Whitenack ran 40.9 and the mile relay team of Don Graham, Norm Witek, Russ Whitenack, and Larry Kelly ran 3:14.4.

Quantico Relays

While the TIAC meet was going on several trackmen were representing Tennessee at the Quantico Relays. Richmond Flowers avenged a loss at the Penn Relays to Leon Coleman of Winston-Salem and Erv Hall of Villanova as he defeated both of them in the high hurdles at 13.8. One other victory was recorded by a Tennessee freshman mile relay team of Jim Smeltzer, Gregg Robinson, Tom Brown, and Hardee McAlhaney.

1967 SEC Meet

As the Southeastern Co0nference Meet approached it was obvious that Florida, using their freshmen, had a good chance to win the meet. Coach Rohe had decided that it was unfair to deprive a good athlete of a chance to compete in the NCAA meet his senior year. Due to this decision Jeff Gabel, school record holder in the triple jump at 47-1¾; Hardee McAlhaney, school record holder in the 440 at 47.1; and a flock of distance runners capable of scoring points were not entered in the SEC meet.

The 1967 SEC Meet was held in Knoxville on Tennessee’s Tom Black Track. Tennessee was a slight favorite to win its fourth straight championship.

In the Friday preliminaries the Volunteers, feeling the pressure from Florida, put on a great show as they won many heats and qualified some who were not expected to be in contention.

The Saturday finals started in a rain storm that soaked the athletes and fans but had no effect on the track conditions.

In an effort to show the rest of the conference the fine freshmen distance runners being held out of the meet, and also to entertain the fans that arrived early, an exhibition mile run was added to the program. In the exhibition the Volunteers put on quite a performance as Tony Masi won in the time of 4:10.4; followed by Dickie Kleier, 4:11.3; David Scire, 4:12.5; Ken Rowlett, 4:13.4; Gordon Wilson, 4:14.3; Sam Rutherford, 4:17.2; and Steve Nelson, 4:22.2.

To start the main event Carroll Thrift, Chick McGeehan, Gary Wagner, and Richmond Flowers raced 440 yards in 40.1 seconds to win easily over an amazed LSU team. This time was a new conference record and only half a second off the world record.

While the mile field was being lined up the results of the long jump were announced. Vol jumpers had taken three places – Tommy Fisher was third with a jump of 24-0½, a school record; Steve Keltner was fourth at 23-6¾; and Richmond Flowers was fifth with a leap of 23-4¾. This showing was a big surprise to everyone but loyal Vol followers. This was followed by an announcement indicating that Ron Holt had placed fifth in the javelin at 204-0½. Tennessee’s outstanding javelin man, George Moschis, was forced to act as an official as a result of a technicality overlooked while transferring from a school in Greece to the University of Tennessee. Courtney Fagen later captured fourth place in the shot put at 51-11½. The mile run then got underway and Dave Storey placed third for the Vols with a fast time of 4:10.0.

The next event was the 120 yard high hurdles. In the preliminaries Richmond Flowers had become the favorite as he set a new SEC record of 13.7 second. Living up to all expectations, Flowers won the finals in 13.8 seconds, followed closely by teammates Roger Neiswender at 14.0 and Pat Murphy at 14.4. This Tennessee sweep was just another indication that Tennessee was not going to lose its championship.

Tennessee continued to pile up the points as:

  • Bob Dickson ran a 48.1 second 440 and placed fifth
  • Richmond Flowers, previously unranked in the 100, took first place with a
    9.7, followed closely by Carroll Thrift in second with a 9.8 and Gary Wagner
    in fifth with a 9.9
  • Larry Kelly finished strong in the 880 and established a new SEC record at
    1:48.5, followed by Norm Witek in second at 1:51.4 and Butch Stewart in fifth
    at 1:52.1
  • Pat Murphy and Steve Keltner finished third and fourth, respectively, in the
    440 intermediate hurdles with times of 52.6 and 53.6
  • Carroll Thrift and Gary Wagner placed third and fifth, respectively, in the
    220 with times of 21.7 and 21.9.
  • Les Rager threw the discus 170-9½ for third place
  • Dave Storey ran two miles in 9:14.1 to claim a fifth place medal.


In the last running event, the mile relay, Russ Whitenack, Norm Witek, and Bob Dickson brought the baton to anchor man Larry Kelly a step behind LSU’s Carl Hight. Kelly quickly took the lead but lost it to Hight on the last straightaway. With 50 yards left to go Kelly took the lead with a burst, lost it momentarily, and then with another burst regained it and lunged over the finish line for the win. He was quickly mobbed by happy teammates. Coach Rohe, who could stay in the stands no longer, broke his own rule and jumped to the track to shake Kelly’s hand.

While the pole vault continued, SEC Commissioner Tonto Coleman presented the Championship trophy to Captain Roger Neiswender and the high point trophy to Richmond Flowers.

An hour after all the fans were gone, Steve Owens climaxed a tremendous comeback as he vaulted 15-6 to tie the SEC record.

Tennessee had retained its leadership in a fast-growing Southeastern Conference track world. For the first time in three years they were challenged, not because they were a weaker team, but because the other universities were following the example set by Chuck Rohe and were stronger.

The history of track and field at the University of Tennessee is quite a story. It is a story of courage and of men who should never be forgotten. But the story is far from complete . . . and the best is yet to come.