Wiley's Track Legacy Lives On
By Keith Mills
Baltimore loves its high school heroes. More than 30 years after Pam Shriver nearly won the U.S. Open as junior at McDonogh, her name is still magic in her hometown. Same with Cal Ripken Jr. and Antonio "Buttons" Freeman, Muggsy Bogues, Sam Cassell and the dozens of local NBA players who are still revered on the playgrounds of east and west Baltimore.
Cliff Wiley hasn't lived in Baltimore in 32 years, but he's still an icon in local track and field.
"I remember seeing Maurice Greene for the first time when he was 12 years old at a meet in Kansas City," Wiley said. "He grew up there and after he won his first national championship in 1997 I gave him three pieces of advice: 1. Be kind to the people who are kind to you. You never know when they can help you. 2. Hold onto your money and 3. Remember where you came from.
"The people in Kansas City will always embrace you as one of their own, long after the people in New York and California have forgotten that you ever ran track. I know that because the people in Baltimore have always embraced me as one of their own."
Wiley was back in his hometown last weekend, hosting the Cliff Wiley Track and Field Classic, which celebrated its 26th birthday at Northwestern High School. After a highly decorated career at the University of Kansas, he settled in Kansas City, Kan., and has spent the last 30 years practicing law.
But he's never wavered in his commitment to Baltimore-area track and field.
"I'm a charter member of the Ed Waters Track Club," said Wiley, who is now 56 years old and also the girls' track coach at Washington High School in Kansas City. "This meet, people ask me: 'Why do we keep doing it? We're probably going to end up in the red.' But somebody did this for me. There were track meets growing up. I didn't know who was putting the meet on. I just came out to run. I think it's important we keep it going and give back."
Wiley grew up on McKean Ave in the heart of West Baltimore. He went to public school No. 29 (Matthew Henson Elementary) and Lamelle Junior High before settling in at Douglass High in September 1971. Three years later, he was one of the nation's premier sprinters, a national age group champion and multiple Maryland Scholastic Association champ who would go on to the University of Kansas, make the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and never forget his roots.
"My first day on the track was when I was 12 years old at the Easterwood Rec Center,” said Wiley. “We'd run at Carver High School. That's also where the Ed Waters Track Club would run."
Waters was to Baltimore City track and field what Bob Lumsden and George Young were to city-wide high school football and George "Sugar" Cain was to basketball -- a pioneer who pushed kids on the track and kept them out of trouble off it.
"My brother Russell was two years ahead of me," said Cliff. "He was an all-around athlete. In those days, we weren't sending a lot of guys to college, so he went into the military. But he was my first mentor, my first role model."
If Russell Wiley was the first, Ralph Durant was the second. Durant eventually ran the Ed Waters club, building it into a regional powerhouse before passing away in 2003 of cancer at age 55.
Wiley was one of its great success stories.
"I grew up right across the street from Ralph Durant," Wiley said. "There were four houses on our block and the Red Rooster Bar. He had a way of nurturing you along. He pushed you, but he also nurtured you. No one got a big head. And it was all about making the most of the opportunities available. He would push you hard for two hours so by the time you got home, got something to eat and did your schoolwork, you were too tired to run the streets and get into trouble."
Schoolwork and Wiley, though, didn't see eye-to-eye.
"Stanley Hendricks was my fifth-grade teacher," Wiley said, "and I joke to him all the time that he was my teacher times two because I had to repeat fifth grade."
Wiley got through elementary and middle school and arrived at Douglass High in 1971, where he made an immediate impact for coach Sidney Carter's Ducks track team. He graduated in 1974 as a dominant sprinter, who caught the eye of Nebraska assistant coach Roger Capan, though he ended up heading to Kansas, home of Olympians Billy Mills, Al Oerter and Jim Ryun and one of the great track programs in U.S. history, which was started in 1901 by Dr. James Naismith and coached then by Hall of Famer Bob Timmons.
He is the school's all-time record holder in the 60- and 300-yard dash indoors and is still, more than 30 years later, the fourth-fastest runner in school history in the 200 meters with a time of 20.03 seconds. He was a Kansas All-American in both 1977 and '78 and in 1980 set the world record in the 400 and made the U.S. Olympic team, though President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Games and Wiley never competed in the Olympics.
"I didn't win my first race until I was 16 years old," Wiley said. "I went four years without winning. But there's something about coming to the track that I found success in. Not necessarily individual success, but just the success in achieving something.
"I wasn't very good in school. I had a real stuttering problem, so the success I had in track and field was really instrumental in raising my self esteem."
Wiley became one of the great sprinters of his generation, though through it all, he always kept an eye on the local track scene back home, which was exploding after Wiley left for Kansas. Kenwood's Mike Sheely, Lansdowne's Karen Wagner and Dulaney's Mandy White were outstanding distance runners, who ran to national prominence, while Keith Brown, the sensational sprinter from McDonogh, went on to run at Villanova and also qualified for the 1980 Olympic team.
A stable full of young sprinters followed: Meade's Darren Walker; Woodlawn's Jerry Roney and Joel Brown; Kyle Farmer and Tony Cole of Oakland Mills; and Western's Latosha Wallace, who ended an outstanding career four years ago at Arizona.
Now, Keith Brown's daughter, Kristin -- like her dad, a graduate of McDonogh and now a sophomore at Virginia Tech -- and siblings Lauren and Matt Centrowitz of Broadneck are among the many runners who are carrying the Baltimore banner nationally.
Matt, a junior at the University of Oregon, just won the men's 1,500 at the U.S. Track championships while Lauren is the Stanford record holder in the 1,500. She finished third in last month's NCAA championships.
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Ultimately, James Carter of Mervo and Carver's Bernard Williams, two members of the Ed Waters Track Club, took it to another level, achieving international and Olympic success.
Carter ran for coach Freddie Hendricks at Mervo. He placed fourth in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, before winning the 2005 world championship one year later. Williams won a gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, before winning a silver in the 200 meters in the '04 games in Athens.
He also won the men's NCAA 100-meter championship at the University of Florida in 2003.
"We keep passing the baton here," Wiley said, "and that's a good thing. I don't know which of these kids here are going to be the next Cliff Wiley or Keith Brown or James Carter, or who's going to compete in college. We just don't know. But we've got a jewel here.
"James Carter and Bernard Williams are both guys I saw come through the program and to see them go on and make Olympic teams and win medals -- that's really special to me. It means the legacy is continuing."
The Ed Waters Track club is now called the Baltimore City Track and Field Club and is run by current Northwestern coach Jerry Molyneaux, the wildly successful former girls' coach at Western. The BTFC will host the Ed Waters Memorial Reunion meet Saturday at Northwestern.
The BTFC was also well represented in the Cliff Wiley meet last weekend. Tyrell Mack won the 13-14 200 and 400 runs while Jordan Knox won the 13-14 100 and finished second to Mack in the 200. Ari White won the 13-14 shotput and discus.
Bria Jones won both the 17-19 girls' 100 run and the long jump. Mykael Dixon won the 17-19 girls' 110 hurdles and 200 run, while Tylar Colbert won the girls' 11-12 200 and 400 runs. Natalie Holland and Morgan McGinnis finished 1-2 in the girls' 9-10 1,500 meters, while Nakariah Johnson (15-16) and Markia Farmer (17-19) both won 1,500 races.
Morgan Jennings and Jordan Davis of the Randallstown Track Club finished first and second in the 13-14 200 hurdles, while Madison Robinson (Under-8, 800) and Chloe Celestin (11-12, 1,500) both won races for the Pikesville Cheetahs, coached by Foster Lampkin.
The Cheetahs will be well represented in both the Junior Olympic nationals next week in Wichita, Kansas and the AAA Jr. Nationals beginning July 30 in New Orleans. D'Amaia Davis, a 12-year old student at Roland Park Middle School, is the defending champ in the 1,500 race walk and is a Carson Scholar, while her brother Jordan will compete in the race walk, the 800 and 1,500.
"Next year the JOs (Junior Olympic nationals) will be at Morgan State," said Wiley, who had a big assist in bringing this year's Jr. Olympic meet to Wichita next week. "That's going to bring $25 million to the Baltimore economy because of all the people coming to town. The business community will certainly reap the benefits, so hopefully they'll get behind this and make it something special. It would be nice if the home team came out, looked good, feel good about themselves and represent the city well.
"The big thing we need in Baltimore City right now is a new indoor track facility. If we had that, our programs would be off the charts. Look at what they have down in P.G. County -- the learning complex (The Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex), a great place for the kids to run and their families to go and support them.
"We have the Armory here (the Fifth Regiment Armory). I ran at the Armory. Come on now. It's time we try and develop things a little better. It would pay for itself. The Baltimore City track program and some of the other programs are producing kids that are going on to college and doing great things in track and field. They may not be producing records, but we've got a whole slew of kids who are doing great things."
Among Wiley's guests at his meet last week was Hendricks, the same fifth-grade teacher who flunked him 47 years ago. Now 75, Hendricks spent much of the afternoon taking pictures and serving as a reminder of Wiley's days growing up on the West side.
"Guys like Mr. Hendricks, Ralph Durant," Wiley said, "they are the real heroes. This meet is called the Cliff Wiley Track Classic, fine and good, but in reality I am just a symbol, a role player.
"For all the other athletes who came out of this program and have gone on to college and had some success in their professional lives, that's what it's really all about. I get to smile and be king for a day, but really it's their success that I'm symbolic of."
Posted July 21, 2011