In the Beginning
Somewhere, sometime in the year of 1970, a bunch of local running guys decided to form their own club. Back in the days when running was not what we know it to be today, some of them changed sports to pursue the running fever. For example, Bob Muller was a speed skater and had to lose his mighty skating legs and some pounds to achieve the speed he wanted in running. It paid off as he won in his age group in the Yonkers marathon seven times and many more races over the years. In fact, if you ever check out his belt buckles, they may be a prize for winning a marathon instead of the traditional trophies!
These men thought they would have a better chance as a team than they would as individuals so Harry Murphy, Jack Stetch, Phil Heitz, Mark Greenblatt, Norm Feldman, and Bob Muller formed a running club. Harry became the coach and mentor we all know of today. Kurt Steiner was most helpful and supportive with this endeavor – however, due to AAU (now TAC /MAC) rules, he could not become a member. Kurt never failed in his years of announcing races to make a special point of cheering in his PPTC friends. This was also the early days for the NYRRC and every member wore his or her own assigned number for each race.
In the early days, the PPTC colors were yellow and black for no other reason than these shirts were cheap. The first one was hand painted by Harry Murphy himself, who made signs by trade. Harry made many of the first finish line signs for Fred Lebow. The story goes some of the shirts cost 75 cents and it is believed some of our members may still have some!!
What’s In a Name?
Now they have a club, so what do they call it? The name needed to be accepted by TAC/MAC. They tried “Brooklyn Road Runners,” “Brooklyn Trojans,” and “Prospect Park Road Runners.” Finally, “Prospect Park Track Club” was accepted even though the Club was never a track team. The Club always had the bridge on the back of their shirts and moved to the red and white in 1980 when PPTC members entered a race as a team and singlets in the new colors replaced the original tee shirts. The club produced a commemorative shirt 2001 to celebrate the 30th anniversary, using Harry’s original logo and in today’s colors to bridge the past and present and bring us to the future.
Long Runs and Workouts
Frank Deleo, Paul Soskind, Nathan Whinning, Louis Rios, Al Prawda and Johnny Kenul – all our Ultra runners and winners in many team events for many years — would start at Park Circle, go over the bridge, south to Battery Park and back. Maybe they would start at Park Circle and run to the GWB and back. Normal long runs for them, and many others.
For many years, Fred and Mollie Spiegal led group runs that met at Park Circle across from the tennis courts. The favorite route was over the bridge to either City Hall or to Washington Square Park and back. In the late 90’s Peter Tomasi revived the group runs which ran both around and beyond the park. When Pete and his family moved to Port Jervis, the club found itself without an official group run. But in the spring of 2007, Ralph Yozzo volunteered as group leader, and proposed running alongside another group from Slope Sports to promote greater participation and camaraderie. The experiment proved a huge success, garnering greater numbers than ever before.
In Harry’s day, Tuesday in the summer was Midwood field workouts. Regina Cahill remembers Fridays as the “Torture Track” hill repeats on the long meadow near the picnic house. According to Regina, Harry Murphy always had innovative workouts:
- Hill repeats near Seeley St. playground in the dark. Harry would be at the top of the hill. When his flashlight went out, it was time to start the repeat
- Nature runs “jogging the acid” out after a race. Regina took us on a similar run that was both fun and educational. It was nice to run on some of Harry’s old turf. If we can convince her to do this again, I encourage you to join us
- Jiggley jogs. Easy run days were a 4½ miles trail around the parade grounds wearing Harry’s wool red plaid hunter’s hat with earflaps down!! Regina recalls a congenial group of folks who enjoyed each other and running and were fiercely competitive in their races.
With Harry’s passing, the club found itself without its running mentor. Enter Will Abrams , outstanding runner and devoted coach. Will provided sorely needed speedwork sessions for several years, and led a cluster of dedicated runners who would often train before dawn.
In 2006, Tony Watson assumed the main coaching responsibilities for PPTC, and infused a competitive spirit into new and seasoned club runners alike, who began to attract attention with their performances once again.
First PPTC Picnic: August 1975
First Harry’s Handicap: July 1977
Back then there was a semi-annual handicap race in June on the day of the club picnic (which is now a relay race) and on New Year’s Day, which is the Handicap we know today. Al Goldstein said Lenny Nemerovsky and Harry constituting the Handicapping committee and hearing many pleas for a higher handicap from the majority of runners! Some things never change! Harry and Kurt Steiner did the scoring and Harry handed out 25 medals to the first finishers. The Handicap is now run every year on New Year’s Day in honor of Harry. Runners are given a 15-minute (or greater) head start (handicap) 14 minute, 13 minute and so on. Rumor has it members would actually train for this event in the early days. Al Goldstein recalls Harry having a positive approach in offering critique of someone’s running – only positive comments – never negative. Al says Harry was a tough runner and remembers him giving everything he had to the finish on a hot day in August when he was over 70. Harry never boasted about his own running career although he was a national champion once and a nationally ranked runner for years.
PPTC has a long history of social activities. Harry Murphy (nicknamed “Junior” but no relationship to the original) remembers having a big party / dinner dance at Bishop Ford H.S. in the early 1980’s. The site was secured by Brother Ben O’Reilly from the Club who taught at Bishop Ford at that time. Fred Lebow was the guest of honor and speaker at the dinner.
Besides the running, there have always been numerous opportunities to socialize with other club members. Our annual awards party, and club picnic are outstanding. Also members often organize other activities, formally or informally, to share some good times. We’ve gone bowling, cheered at ballgames, taken a foliage cruise to Bear Mountain, or gone to the theater to name a few instances. The underlying theme is to take part in fun events. With people you’ve come to know and enjoy through the club.
Today, the Club counts more than 250 members and is the largest running club in Brooklyn. We are actively involved in working alongside the Prospect Park Alliance and the Prospect Park YMCA to promote community programs and events. Our monthly newsletter provides updates on club activities. PPTC has been instrumental in developing and helping Brooklyn’s road running programs, past and present, by offering their technical expertise and volunteers to other groups looking to establish their own races, and to those who have already established events. Among these are The Flatbush Frolic, Music That Heals, The Eugene McCarthy Memorial Race, The Michael Hanly Memorial Run, Knights of Pythias 5 Miler, and the Good Shepherd 5K. The Club has also sponsored the girls’ distance medley event repeatedly at the Midwood Relays in Brooklyn. PPTC volunteers are prominent in many park events and along the 13.1 miles of the Brooklyn Half Marathon. In recent years, our men have earned applause for their enthusiastic staffing of a water stop at the NYRRC Women’s Half Marathon. PPTC has generously donated over $20,000 of the proceeds from the Turkey Trot 5Miler to the Bishop Ford High School track team to help further their competitive program.
Many people have served and continue to serve in many positions over the years and not all are mentioned here. Thank you to all our members who have volunteered their time and energy to improve and enhance our club.
All of this is prologue. The best has yet to come.