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UL track legends need to be honored

UL track legends need to be honored

Dan McDonald, Daily Advertiser, January 14, 2007

Two names symbolize UL's track and field program: Bob Cole, for those who have been around the program for a long time, and Charles Lancon, for those whose Ragin' Cajun experiences are more recent.

Now both of them are gone, and it's time to put their names where they belong ... over the entrance to the Cajuns' track facility just off Bertrand Drive.

Lancon left us in 2002, in the middle of his 13th year as UL's track coach following an already-legendary three-decade career in the local prep ranks.

Cole retired in 1984 after two decades of running the Cajun program, and spent most of his time since then fishing Toledo Bend and tending his gardens until his health deteriorated over the last few weeks.

Cole died of cancer complications Friday morning, and a legion of former Cajun tracksters will be at Fountain Memorial today for visitation (2-8 p.m.) and Monday for funeral services (1 p.m. following visitation from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.).

Hopefully, that group can band together and start a groundswell of support, coming up with a way to honor the two men who spent their lives in a sport that receives precious little recognition.

Cole basically built a program from scratch when he arrived in 1964 and ended up winning eight outdoor titles and even more indoor and cross-country crowns. His program numbered 37 All-Americans by the time long jumper Elton Slater finished that run in 1984.

Lancon took over five years later, and won 14 conference "Coach of the Year" honors in a nine-year period. During a career cut short by a fatal heart attack, his teams won 17 conference titles in indoor and outdoor track and cross country.

Those numbers will likely never be matched locally, since a sport perennially under-funded even during the Cole and Lancon tenures gets even less support dollar-wise and fan-wise now. It's been a long time since the Southwestern Relays used to draw standing-room only crowds.

It's only the die-hard fans that head out to Cajun Track these days.

The ones that do see a very different sport. The emphasis on team accomplishment - building up points and winning meet titles - is all but gone on the collegiate level. Most college meets don't even tally team scores any more until conference-meet time.

That's a shame, because team meant everything to Bob Cole and Charles Lancon. Sure, both had their share of outstanding individual performers, but both were just as proud of the less-talent-blessed athletes that gutted out fourth-place finishes in the 5,000 or placed in the discus. It's those points that helped their teams win all those league titles.

Ironically, one of the few places that team results remain important is at the University of Arkansas, where John McDonnell has won 42 national team titles in indoor and outdoor track and cross country. McDonnell was a standout Cajun distance runner in the late '60s and later became Cole's assistant before his now-legendary run with the Razorbacks.

Arkansas' track stadium in Fayetteville is John McDon-nell Field, and the blessing is that he's still alive and well and doing what he loves in a facility that bears his name.

It's too late for such a living honor here, but it's not too late to honor their memories.


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