As Lester Milburn, one of 11 relatively unknown young track men from a heretofore obscure Negro college in Houston, came off the curve into the final straight of the mile relay last week at the Texas Relays, the 12,000-odd people in Memorial Stadium in Austin broke into clamorous and prolonged applause. Mil-burn finished some 50 yards ahead of the second-place runner, completing an amazing sweep of five races for Texas Southern University. Not only did Texas Southern's 11 men win all the relays they entered, they set a meet record in each one (see page 81), and all but bankrupted their pudgy coach. Stanley V. Wright, who buys the team a steak dinner for each record broken.
This was the first of a long series of annual spring relay carnivals (among them the Kansas, Drake, Coliseum, Modesto, Penn and Fresno relays). It was also the first time a Negro college had been allowed to enter the Texas Relays. By its performance—which included a 3:09 in the mile, the fastest in the country this year—Texas Southern established itself as very likely the best all-round relay track team in the nation.
The school, which offers a wide variety of degrees and is particularly strong in the sciences, has been in existence only 14 years. In that time its enrollment has swelled to 3,435, and it now has as impressive a campus as the neighboring University of Houston. Wright, a pleasant, open and friendly man who was raised in New Jersey, has been the track coach for 12 years. A graduate of Springfield College in Massachusetts, with a master's degree in physical education from Columbia, he uses neither magic nor deep subsidization to develop his tremendous relay teams. Of the present squad of 41, only six are in school on athletic scholarships, but Texas Southern does have one natural recruiting advantage: a plethora of fine Negro running talent close at hand in Texas high schools. With athletic integration of major Texas colleges soon to come, Texas Southern may lose that edge, but Wright feels it will still have an important plus in its pleasant and comfortable social life.
"Midwest schools have come down here recruiting," he said at Austin. "But some of the boys who went from the Negro high schools to integrated big schools there found the social adjustment hard to make. We feel if we can get a boy to visit our campus, he will stay."
Rather than recruiting, however, Stan Wright's forte as a coach is his sensitive and intelligent approach to his athletes. As they prepared for their amazing day in Austin, he fussed over them as worriedly as a biddy hen. "Some boys I have to raise my voice to," he said, raising his voice to one runner who had a toothpick in his mouth ("It looks bad, and suppose you swallow it?"). "Some of them I put my arm around their shoulders and talk to them. Some I've got to hug and kiss."
Wright walked over to four runners before the first relay race. He crouched and joined hands with them for a moment, telling them quietly to do their best. They didn't disappoint him. Three, in fact, had the killing chore of running on three relay teams. As the afternoon wore on, the almost all-white crowd cheered TSU more and more enthusiastically. After the loudest cheer, when the time of the mile relay was announced, Wright turned from his athletes, looked past the stands and said, "That's a wonderful sound, isn't it?" It was.