The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
“There never was nor never will be a finer gentleman on this or any other campus. He is a great friend and inspiration to all of us.”
— Former W Club president Dr. Al Tormey on Wisconsin Track & Field coach Tom Jones
Wisconsin did not win the 1948 Western Conference championship.
The league’s 48th annual outdoor meet had been brought to Camp Randall Stadium in celebration of Tom Jones, the man who had led UW’s efforts in track and field for 35 years and was set to retire at season’s end, but there would be no fairytale finish for the Badgers looking to send their beloved coach out on a high note.
Still, it likely did little to diminish Jones’ appreciation of the moment.
Though his teams won frequently — the Badgers posted a record of 144-49 in dual and triangular meets, many on the Camp Randall oval — Jones was characterized as holding a more nuanced view of the value of competition.
Tom Jones will always be remembered as a lover of sports for their own sake, it was written upon his death in 1969. He would much rather talk of sports in terms of the development of man rather than in terms of wins and losses.
Jones wouldn’t ride off into the sunset with another trophy from his final conference meet — the Badgers finished sixth — but he did drive away in a new Buick Super 51 gifted to him by the National W Club in recognition of a decorated coaching career.
“There never was nor never will be a finer gentleman on this or any other campus,” W Club president Dr. Al Tormey, who had starred for Jones as a collegian, told the crowd while presenting the car to his former coach on the field at Camp Randall. “He is a great friend and inspiration to all of us.”
Jones inspired many over a career that spanned four decades and resulted in 15 Western Conference crowns for the Badgers between cross country and indoor and outdoor track. He coached 137 athletes that won individual conference titles and saw five claim national championships.
He mentored four Olympians, including two that competed in the 1948 Games in London, where Jones capped his coaching career by serving as an assistant for the American squad. Sprinter Lloyd LaBeach took bronze in both the 100 meters and 200 meters for his native Panama, while Don Gehrmann finished seventh in the 1500 meters for the U.S.
“I was lucky to come to Madison in the first place. I was lucky to be associated for so many years with so many fine colleagues at the University of Wisconsin and in the Western Conference. … And I was lucky with the press because they minimized by shortcomings and exaggerated my virtues.”
— Tom Jones
Gehrmann, the last in a long line of middle distance stars who thrived at Wisconsin under the tutelage of the coach often referred to as the “Maker of Milers,” was the Badgers’ bright spot at the conference meet in Madison in 1948.
Gehrmann won the mile — one of his 12 conference titles on the track, still a school record — in 4 minutes, 15.9 seconds.
He’d go on to win the national title at the NCAA outdoor championships, an event Jones founded in 1921 along with legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and John Griffith, the first commissioner of what would become the Big Ten Conference.
In addition to shaping it at the college level, it’s no exaggeration to say Jones wrote the book on the sport. He authored a guide for coaches and competitors titled “Track and Field Athletics,” as well as a detailed manual for designing and building competition tracks.
His greatest legacy, though, was in the world-class athletes he coached, a list headlined by Gehrmann and fellow highly-decorated milers Chuck Fenske and Walter Mehl.
Fittingly, Jones joined Fenske and Gehrmann as members of the charter class of the UW Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991 (Mehl was elected in 1992). He also was named to the Wisconsin State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1954 and the National Track & Field Hall of Fame and Drake Relays Hall of Fame in 1977.
The humble Jones was never one to take credit for his success, however.
“I was lucky to come to Madison in the first place,” Jones told the crowd that turned out to honor him at a banquet on the eve of the ’48 conference meet. “I was lucky to be associated for so many years with so many fine colleagues at the University of Wisconsin and in the Western Conference.
“And I was lucky with the press because they minimized by shortcomings and exaggerated my virtues.”