by George Brose (Tanzania 1965-67)
There are lists of politicians, writers, CEO’s, artists, and film people, even an astronaut who were in the Peace Corps in their early or later years. But I’ve yet to see anything about sports figures who have been PCV’s. I personally know of a few who I would call major sports figures and in talking with John Coyne we decided that these folks should not go unnoticed for their service in the Peace Corps and their contributions on the playing fields.
My area of expertise is track and field, and this sport is where I have found most of my subjects. They include an Olympic champion, a Boston Marathon champion, a famous coach, a not so famous runner but one who has been a long-time contributor to the sport, and another lesser known gem, and I’m even going to include a sportswriter who described the perils of coaching softball in Tanzania.
Bob Schul (Malaysia 1971-72)
Let’s start with the Olympic champion, Bob Schul. Bob is the only American ever to win the 5,000 meters in the Olympics which he did in 1964. After college at Miami of Ohio and a tour in the Air Force, Bob would come under the influence of the great Hungarian emigre coach Mihaly Igloi, who doled out enormous quantities of repeat running intervals that only a few good runners could survive without permanent injury. And Bob thrived on Igloi’s workouts. By 1963 he was running world class times, and in 1964 he was just about unbeatable in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 meters. He would lead the US to first and third place in the 5,000 meters in Tokyo that year.
Bob returned home and continued to run, and by 1968 his career on the track was just about over. Bob was hired by the Peace Corps to be the national coach of Malaysia from April 1971 to April 1972.
In 2000, Bob published his memoir of running In the Long Run.
Amby Burfoot (El Salvador 1968)
Anyone who knows much about marathoning or reads Runners’ World is familiar with Amby Burfoot. Amby won the Boston Marathon in 1968 and has been a long-time contributor to Runners’ World and is now senior editor. He has written a number of books on running including a history of the most influential women’s runners in the sport.
After he won Boston while still an undergrad student at Wesleyan College, that same year he saw an ad in The New York Times for a track coach in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps. It sounded like a divine intervention for him as Ethiopia was rapidly coming into the realm of world class distance running with Abebe Bikila having won the Olympic marathon in both 1960 and 1964. Where better to be assigned as a distance coach? However, by the time Amby got in his application, the job had been filled, but he was offered and accepted a tour in El Salvador. He told me he was the only volunteer in his group assigned to live in the capitol, San Salvador, and coach young athletes. All the other volunteers were agriculture workers living in the countryside. (editor’s note: Abby Burfoot has written 6 books about running including First Ladies of Running.)
Tim Hickey (Tanzania 1964-66)
Unlike the first two PCV’s mentioned, Tim Hickey began making his name in the track and field world during his volunteer days and for many years after. His PCV service really set him on his career path. Tim grew up in the Midwest farmlands of Parker City, IN just outside of Muncie. He attended Ball State Teachers College (now Ball State University) and ran on their track team. After graduation he applied and got into the Peace Corps and was sent to Tanzania to be the National Basketball coach. When he saw the raw recruits he soon switched over to become the National track and field coach.
He had several runners who competed internationally for Tanzania including a sprinter Norman Chihota and a distance runner John Stephen. Stephen would become somewhat of a celebrity in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic film by Bud Greenspan. In the marathon, Stephen fell and injured his knee early in the race. But he got up and continued with some roadside bandaging and managed to finish the race at the tail end. Greenspan saw something in his effort to finish that endurance race that inspired him, and he featured Stephen’s arduous last strides toward the finish line.
When Tim returned home after his tour, he answered an ad for RPCV’s to teach in the public schools of Philadelphia. Many came; few stayed. Tim stayed for thirty years and served as coach at William Penn High School, an “inner city school” that met all the definitions which that term brings to mind. The school had no track and field facilities, so Tim coached his kids on the streets or in local parks. For many years William Penn was a powerhouse of Eastern and national high school track and field. The majority of his work was with the girls’ team and over forty of those girls won athletic scholarships to universities around the country. Today, Tim is revered in the track world in his adopted hometown. For most of that time he also served as director of the high school division of the Penn Relays, one of the three most important relay events in North America.
Bill Peck (Somalia 1965-66)
Bill Peck is less a household name in track and field than our earlier mentions yet to those who know him he meets all the criteria for respect and accomplishment in the sport.
Somalia was considered to be so difficult that assignments were only for 18 months rather than 24 months. There was only one working traffic light in the capital Mogadishu. As a sign of progress today there are probably no working traffic lights. And the Volunteers were told that they would be living on goat meat and tea for the duration, if they were lucky. During his service Bill organized the first national track and field championships in Somalia.
Recently he was honored by the Track and Field Writers of America (TAFWA) for his contributions to the sport.
Here is a transcription from TAFWA’s article about Bill in their July, 2019 newsletter.
2018 FAST AWARD TO BILL PECK — TAFWA is pleased to announce that Bill Peck is the winner of the FAST Award for 2018. We waited to announce this formally until we were able to locate Bill and present the award to him in person. Member Jack Shepard drove from his home in Los Angeles to Hemet, Calif., where Bill now resides, to make the presentation. (See photo.) An excellent runner in his own right, Peck began statistical compiling on his own in the early 1960s, probably while he was still an undergraduate at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He worked with data from early NCAA, AAU and Spalding guides at the beginning, and later prepared age-group lists for Starting Line magazine. In recent years he collaborated with Tom Casacky on the History of the California State Meet 1915 to 2006, a project he continues to work on. Because he does not have a car, phone or computer, he uses old-school methodology – transport by bicycle, record keeping by paper and pencil. As a runner, Peck was a scorer in the NCAA Championships for Oxy in ’60 (6th place) and ’61 (8th). He ran the Olympic Trials steeple in 1960 and had lifetime bests of 9:09.3 in that event and 30:38.0 in the 10k. He won the Mt SAC 10 in ’61 and is a member of the Occidental College Track and Field Hall of Fame. Prior to college, Peck served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He grew up near Laurel Canyon Boulevard, in the Hollywood Hills, and graduated from Hollywood High School. After college he taught history and coached at Eagle Rock and other high schools in the LA area.
Jerome McFadden (Morocco 1964-66)
Jerome “Jerry” McFadden was a scholarship runner at the University of Missouri in the mid 1960’s. He finished second in the mile outdoors at the Big Eight Conference in 1963. His best time for the mile was 4 minutes and 5 seconds. He went from Columbia, MO to Morocco after graduation where he served as a track coach.
Among his many talents, Jerry is also a prolific writer. Here is what Amazon says about him.
Jerome W. McFadden is an award winning short story writer whose stories have appeared in 50 magazines, anthologies, and e-zines over the past ten years. He has received a Bullet Award for the best crime fiction to appear on the web. Two of his short stories have been read on stage by the Liar’s League London and Liar’s League Hong Kong. His collection of 26 short stories, entitled Off The Rails was published in October, 2019, and was named a finalist for the 2019 Indie Book Awards and the Indie National Book Award (NIEA) and has outstanding reviews He is also the co-editor of the BWG Writers Roundtable e-zine.
Stephen Fisher (Tanzania 1965-68)
Stephen “Steve” Fisher won his spurs with is pen. Though a good high school basketball player at Classen HS , Oklahoma City, Steve came under the influence of sportswriter and publicist Harold Keith while at the University of Oklahoma as well as journalists at The Daily Oklahoman. Upon graduation, Steve, joined the Peace Corps and for three years taught English and writing at Magamba Secondary School in the Usambara mountains of Tanzania. When he came back to the US, he settled in NYC and with his writing credentials somehow found his way to the New York Times and eventually Long Island Newsday where for years he wrote sports. On one occasion being one of the best Swahili speakers in his Tanzania X group, he interviewed Filbert Bayi, the Tanzanian world record holder in the mile. That interview was done completely in Swahili to Bayi’s amazement.
In all of his writing, humor was one of Steve’s trademarks. Below is a transcript of Steve’s tale of coaching softball in Tanzania. This piece appeared in the New York Times, March 21, 1976 edition.
The Joys and Perils of Coaching softball in Tanzania
By Stephen H. Fisher
I was once manager of the best softball team in tropical Africa (Actually, my title was ‘softball master’, but I signed my correspondence as manager.) Our season at Magamba Secondary School, near Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains of northern Tanzania, reached its climax in October, appropriately enough, with the annual inter-house knockout tournament among our four dormitory teams.
Kenyatta House, of which I was housemaster, won the school championship in 1966 and 1967, the first two years I was in Tanzania, and that made us, ipso facto, the best team south of the Sahara, since Magamba was the softball capital of tropical Africa.
We lost the title in 1968, mainly because our third-hole hitter and center fielder, Robert Hoza, listened to his manager too closely. Africans do not grow up with bats and gloves as Americans do; soccer and track are their sports. They usually did not throw softballs well and, of course, they were strangers to the cutoff principle. All balls in the outfield were returned to the pitcher, but the pitcher never left the mound unless there were three out. Opponents ran laps around the bases while the pitcher waited for the ball, or held it, or tried to figure out how many bases ahead of the runner to throw it.
So, I had two standing rules for Kenyatta House: outfielders had to run the ball into the base ahead of the runner, and no one except the catcher was allowed to throw the ball to the pitcher.
Robert, the school’s head prefect and highly respected by staff and students, learned his lessons too well. He fielded a single in his position of “guardian of the farm of the center” (mlinzi wa shamba la katikati in Swahili) and started to run the ball into second base. But the hitter decided to challenge Robert and took the big turn at “the first station.”
Dead Heat at First
Robert, distrustful of the glove of the man of the first station, headed straight for first on the fastest legs at Magamba. He ran 150 feet as the runner returned 30, and they arrived at the station in a dead heat.
By bad luck (or by good luck as the Swahili hedge goes), both chose to slide; Robert either confusedly thought it was a force play or intended to make the tag with his feet. The runner was safe; Robert was out –out of the game, out of the tournament, out of the season. His ankle was broken.
Nyerere House won that tournament, and Kenyatta House’s dynasty ended.
My English classes were tough for a few weeks, for I hadn’t hesitated to run Kenyatta House’s victories in the noses of the whole school. If I asked my students to write sentences illustrating the rule of the sequence of tenses (please underline the verbs), I got Kenyatta House lost because their coacher was Mr. Fisher.” For conditional sentences, I got “If Kenyatta House had played three more games, they would have lost three more games.”
Their grammar was impeccable.
In addition to our players’ ability and training, which with some players approached American standards, two things set our team apart:
- We had gloves (Bill Robbins, the previous softball master had collected them in Minneapolis in 1965).
- We had caps (I got them in Oklahoma City in 1967). They had “M” on the front and were two-tone.
We used the gloves at school all the time, but I jealously guarded the caps. We broke them out for the first time when we went on tour (with our choir and football team) in 1968 and met Marangu Teachers’ College, near Moshi.
The most obvious fan in the crowd was Mount Kilimanjaro, which probably thought it had seen everything before. We were playing on Kilimanjaro’s lap 5,000 feet up the mountain.
Meeting on the Diamond
In the first inning, I had a mutiny on my hands: Juma Ramadhani, our man of the first station, dropped a pop fly, and he and the whole team were convinced that he had dropped it because the bill of his cap had obstructed his vision.
The team took the field in the second inning with no caps on. I had bought those caps for $22.50, and I was damned if they were going back into the equipment bag. When the players came in to bat in the third, I pointed out that they were going to wear the caps, like it or not, and they obeyed. However, they all wore them Max Patkin style: sideways. Well, half a loaf, etc. The caps screened out no more pop-ups, and we won 11-7.
Carl Halpern, of the Bronx, a Peace Corps colleague, umpired from the seat of his motorcycle and did a commendable job, except that once he gave the safe signal and tipped over.
I returned home after the 1968 season, and Bill Robbins came home in 1969. I’m told that Kenyatta House won not only the softball championship in 1969, but also the school pennants in volleyball, football, track and field and house cleanliness.
Bill and I are retired from managing, but we spend an hour or two on the telephone every October, spitting on the hot stove, arguing over the World Series and trying to remember the name of the school’s man of the third station. We still can’t recall his name, but we think it may have been Pie Traynor.
George Brose was a PCV in Tanzania from 1965-67 working at the Tanzania Cooperative College in Moshi and then at the Outward Bound Mountain School of East Africa in Loitokitok, Kenya. He currently lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. For the past 25 years he has been a mediator specializing in Child Protection cases. He has trained mediators in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, Burundi, Kenya, and Tanzania.