The Harvard track team has just upset Northeastern to conclude its regular season. Leading the pack of jubilant runners in the customary victory lap, one member--decked out in his usual red sweat suit--suddenly sprints ahead and is the first to cross the finish line. His gait is as smooth and quick as that of those he has left behind: only his grey hair betrays the fact that he is no college student, but a man ready for retirement at the ages of 65.
The leader of the pack--Harvard track Coach Bill McCurdy--will conclude his career at this weekend's IC4A meet after three decades at the forefront of the Harvard track community. Since he became the head coach of both the men's cross-country and track teams back in 1952, his harrier squads have won 11 Big Three titles and four Heptagonal championships. His indoor and outdoor track teams have had even greater success, and his career won-lost percentage in dual meets is over 800.
What make this man so special, though, is neither his longevity nor his achievements but the way he approaches his profession. In a sport known for its individualism, McCurdy has developed a program that revolves around team unity and produces teams which can win dual meets, not superstars who rake in individual titles. And, as a result, during his 30-year tenure, the Harvard track mentor has consistently turned out teams whose successes surpass all expectations. In 1950, McCurdy's first year as the Crimson's assistant coach, a powerful squad from Yale ran away from everyone at the Heptagonals and the Big Three meet, while Harvard barely escaped the cellar. But three years later, under McCurdy's direction, the Crimson thinclads beat their heavily favored archrivals in the annual head-to-head confrontation. Currently, Northeastern and Princeton are Harvard's chief competition, and the Crimson downed both teams in regular-season contests, attesting to the effectiveness of McCurdy's continued emphasis on the dual meet.
McCurdy has always gotten the most out of his teams by making superhuman demands on his athletes, and more than one Harvard runner has found training under the venerable coach a more cerebral than physical exercise. McCurdy is particularly renowned for playing mind games on his runners, and at a recent banquet held in his honor, the University recognized McCurdy's motivational abilities by awarding him an honorary degree in psychology.
"He was always a con artist," Chairman of Friends of Harvard Track Jerry Kanten said. "He would get you irritated and challenge you mentally and physically."
Just a few years ago. McCurdy challenged team captain Thad McNulty to a pull-up duel, claiming that he could outdo McNulty by one The captain managed 14 pull ups, but true to his word, McCurdy did 15 Humiliated in defeat, McNulty trained for an entire week, and in a rematch he upped his total by five, but once again the team's mentor beat him by one Still determined to beat his cocky coach. McNulty tried again and did 29, more than doubling his first effort. Of course, McCurdy did 30.
Bow to Stern
It goes without saying that few septagenerians can keep pace with collegiate athletes--let alone outperform them But after devoting over 50 years to his sports. McCurdy has little trouble winning pull-up duels or victory laps.
As a senior in high school, the California native won the state championship in the half-mile. Four years later, McCurdy captained the Stanford track team and qualified for the Olympic trials in the 880
"I placed sixth in the half mile at Nationals," McCurdy said "But I was so disgusted by losing to five other guy that I didn't go."
After graduating from Stanford, he went to work for the Western Paint company but soon found the job unchallenging. "I really didn't give a damn if any body bought paint and wallpaper."
Meanwhile, he continued to run with the West Coast Athletic Club and was captain of the team that won the 1939 national title.
However, it was not until be was drafted into the army in World War II that McCurdy began to consider coaching as a career. He taught physical fitness at an officers school, where among other things, he was named "most fit man in they army."
At the end of the war, McCurdy went to work at Springfield College where he taught Physical Education and coached the indoor track team But he never considered making it his career until 1950 when the Harvard athletic director Bill Bingham offered him the job of assistant coach with the promise of promotion two years later.
McCurdy was dubious about the offer and even considered quitting after his first year.