WYSOCKI’S JUMP FROM REDLANDS TO L.A. GAMES

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Clay Brooks raved about Ruth Kleinsasser.

So did Ted Runner.

Brooks, who spent years as the University of Redlands track & field coach, was a true professor of his sport.

Runner, whose presence on that campus as an athlete, coach and, ultimately, director of athletics, was fond of track. He’d competed. For years, he coached. It almost seemed like he kept a closer eye on that sport than he did anything else.

When Kleinsasser (eventually Ruth Wysocki) stepped onto the track at the Los Angeles Coliseum nine years after spending her freshman season at Redlands, the two men – Brooks and Runner – watched with great interest.

The Alhambra-born Kleinsasser, who ran at Azusa High School, was a prized performer at Redlands for one season.

What made Kleinsasser special was her true dedication to the sport. As a track star, she’s a lifer.

It started in age-group races in the late 1960s, starting an eventual period of about 30 years, until she became a Masters (over-40) runner in 1997.

As an Azusa High senior in 1973, she ran a 2:16 to win the CIF Southern Section 880-yard championship. She also sped around the track to win the 440 (57.3). That’s as tough of a double is in any championship meet.

Since there was no State meet held for girls that year – one would start in 1975, Kleinsasser never had a chance to prove her domination.

By the 1975 season, Kleinsasser was running at Redlands, primarily because internationally-renowned Bulldog coach Vince Reel had come out of retirement. Reel, in fact, met Kleinsasser halfway. He trained her in Claremont.

Ruth Wysocki
Former University of Redlands runner Ruth Wysocki, then known as Ruth Kleinsasser, beat Mary Decker Slaney, right, at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the women’s 1500-meter – one of the shocking upsets that year in track (Photo by runmoremiles.com).

A YEAR IN REDLANDS

Reel, who was married to Chinese star Chi Cheng, had international status, especially since he’d lured some top talent – Chinese sprint star Lee Shiu-Chia, middle distance runners Chee Swee Lee, plus Donna Fromme and some dandy runners like distance star Molly O’Neil, hurdler Pam Ashe, sprinters Gloria Kennedy, Lynn Jones and Denise Becton.

Throw Kleinsasser into that mix. If only she’d lasted four seasons.

Reel wrote about his own exploits. Part of his writings were about Ruth, including her season at Redlands.

Vince Reel
Vince Reel, shown her as a Long Beach City College athlete, where he was State champion in the 100 and 220, in the early 1930s. A two-time sprint champion at Occidental College in 1936, he was fourth in the NCAA 220 championships for Occidental College.He would become a huge connection in the track world as a coach –  Long Beach Wilson High School Track and Field Coach (1938-1957), moving on to Claremont College (1958-71), coming out of retirement to coach Redlands through 1979. He was also the Olympic track & field coach for India (1960) and China (1972). Reel was the founder of “Women’s Track and Field” magazine. (Photo credit: Long Beach City College).

Admittedly, Kleinsasser dropped out of Redlands. “I realize I had chosen the wrong school. Not that it isn’t a wonderful place; it was not just the right place for me.”

“That was before the NCAA for women,” Kleinsasser told Reel in the days when women’s sports were governed by the old AIAW. Truth is, in those days, Redlands’ men were part of the NAIA, not the NCAA.

In reality, Kleinsasser wasn’t even the fastest half-miler on her own team. That same season, Lee Chiu-Shia ran a 2:05.36 in the SPAA meet at track-rich Occidental College, just outside of Pasadena.

At the Bakersfield Invitational, Kleinsasser posted her 2:07.6.

A more familiar name may well be Ruth Wysocki. That came after she married top national distance runner Tom Wysocki.

What made her a Redlands Connection was the year she spent at the University of Redlands. In 1975, she ran fast – the 2:07.6 in the 800, plus a 56.80 in the 400 at the Long Beach Invitational – but she headed back to Citrus College.

More domination. At Citrus, running as Ruth Caldwell, she scored victories in the State cross country championship for both 1977 and 1978.

During the spring track seasons in 1978 and 1979, she was State champion in both the 800 and 1500.

There was a pattern here. Like many international competitors, she was laying the groundwork for the Olympics. In fact, she ran a 2:03, qualifying for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials – still under Reel’s watch. She was 19. Ruth took eighth in the Trials.

She was on-again, off-again training – seriously, pondering, planning. She’d gone from Ruth Kleinsasser to Ruth Caldwell and, finally, to Ruth Wysocki.

WYSOCKI SLAYED SLANEY

If there was a top-flight moment for the ex-Redlands runner, it might be these:

Wysocki upset highly-touted USA star Mary Decker to win the 800 at the 1978 U.S. Championships in 2:01.99. Wysocki scored another upset victory against Decker (eventually Slaney) at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, this time in the 1500-meter.

It was huge at that time. Still is … huge, that is.

Wysocki outsprinted Slaney to win the Trials in 4:00.18 – her lifetime best.

It was Tom Wysocki, training for the Trials, that had convinced his wife to train for the Olympics.

Brooks, who was Reel’s successor at Redlands and Runner, who were both coming to the end of their Redlands careers, watched with curiosity as the one-year Lady Bulldog star made her way into the L.A. Games.

She finished sixth in the 800 and eighth in 1500.

To veteran observers like Brooks and Runner, it was a Redlands victory. One of their own had reached the pinnacle of the sport.

Who cared if the Eastern Bloc nations had boycotted the 1984 Games?

Remember, these were the games of Carl Lewis’ 4-event gold medal.

The women included sprinters Valerie Brisco-Hooks, Evelyn Ashford, plus Flo Jo – Florence Griffith Joyner – plus onetime San Gorgonio High School star Sherri Howard (4 x 400 gold medalist), Jackie Joyner-Kersee, along with marathon champion Joan Benoit.

More men: Britain’s Daley Thompson scored his second straight decathlon title.

Hurdler Edwin Moses. Triple jumper Al Joyner.

ANOTHER REDLANDS CONNECTION

Adding to the flavor of Redlands connections:

One year before the L.A. Games, Redlands held its annual invitational on its cinder track. Two interested participants were Air Force Academy (Colo.) and Azusa Pacific University, among over a dozen other team entries.

In the meet-concluding 4 x 400 relay, Air Force’s Alonzo Babers and Azusa’s Innocent Egbunike ran neck-and-neck on the anchor lap. They might have even brushed against one another halfway on the final lap.

Egbunike could be seen turning his head in Babers’ direction. Neither runner broke stride.

At the finish, Egbunike prevailed.

One year later, the two met in the open 400-meter – Egbunike for his native Nigeria and Babers for the U.S.

Babers won the gold in 44.27 seconds. Egbunike took last in 45.35.

The two would meet again in the 4 x 400 relay.

Sunder Nix, Ray Armstead, Babers and Antonio McKay won the gold, prevailing in 2:57.91. Nigeria, anchored by Egbunike, ran third in 2:59.32.

As for Wysocki, that Redlands Connection kept going for years.

Over a decade later, in 1995, Wysocki ran seventh in the 1500 at the Championships in Athletics in Gothenburg.

In 1997, Wysocki set several Masters records at distances from 800 to 5000 on the track, plus 5K and 8K road races.

She was surrounded by distance runners.

Her dad, Willis Kleinsasser, was a successful Masters athlete.

Alan Kleinsasser, her brother, ran a 1:50.5 over 800 meters and a 3:52.2 clocking in the 1500 – both school records at Caltech in Pasadena.

Then, of course, her husband, Tom produced 13:35.33 in the 5000-meter and 28:19.56 in the 10,000.

WYSOCKI AT THE L.A. OLYMPICS

It wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the absence of the Eastern Bloc nations, that boycott led by the old Soviet Union, there was still plenty of international talent.

On Aug. 6, Romanian Doina Melinte circled the Coliseum track twice to score gold in 1:57.60. USA’s Kim Gallagher, whom Wysocki had encountered on plenty of occasions, won silver in 1:58.63. Melinte’s teammate, Fita Lovin, won the bronze in 1:58.53.

Wysocki ran sixth (2:00.34).

She also qualified in the 1500, held on Aug. 11.

Wysocki was America’s best in that event, but she took eighth (4:08.32), nowhere close to her best mark set at the Trials.

Melinte won the silver, barely nosed out by Italy’s Gabriella Dorio (4:03.25), the Romanian a fraction behind in 4:03.76 with yet another Romanian, Maricica Puica winning bronze (4:04.15).

Wysocki had to be thinking if she’d matched her lifetime best – that 4:00.18 at the Olympic Trials – she’d have been a gold medalist.

She told Reel, “Even though the Olympics didn’t go really great for me, when I got to Europe after the Olympics, I beat everybody that beat me in the Olympics, including (Dorio).”

It was, she said, some vindication.

Brooks, for his part, sent plenty of half-milers out to do battle in Lady Bulldog colors.

Runner, meanwhile, often reflected on the year that Ruth Kleinsasser ran at Redlands.

“She was,” he said, “not just a hard worker.” Runner said, observers could easily tell, “she had a game plan in any race she ran.”

She even made one last game attempt to qualify for the 1996 Olympics at 38.

That one season, 1975, she was a Redlands Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 1: VILLANOVA PLAYED TEMPLE, GEORGETOWN, SIENA … AND REDLANDS?

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Villanova University basketball coach Jay Wright seemed perfectly content to discuss why the Wildcats were playing at Redlands – a major college program with full-ride scholarships against a small-college team that isn’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships.

As open-minded as anyone, Wright spoke openly and honestly about the Wildcats’ trip to Redlands.

Jay Wright
Villanova University coach Jay Wright brought his Wildcats to small University of Redlands in Nov. 2003 to clear his team for the Maui Tournament (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Philadelphia-based Villanova, ranked No. 3 on this date – Feb. 20, 2018 – might be an interesting topic for A Redlands Connection. Back in November 2003, the Wildcats showed up to play a 10 a.m. matchup at Currier Gymnasium.

That was the home court of the University of Redlands.

In a rare duel between a major-college, scholarship-backed program against a small-college, non-scholarship team, Villanova beat the Bulldogs in that Saturday morning match-up. That game had since taken on additional significance. Four of the Wildcats’ current starting five – seeded third in the 2005 NCAA Tournament – played prominent roles in that game at Currier Gymnasium.

The Wildcats, No. 1 seed in that year’s Minneapolis Region, seemingly had a strong shot at a national championship. For a Redlands-Villanova game to have taken place was an unlikely scenario.

“It was,” said Bulldog senior Carson Sofro, then a sophomore, “the craziest, most memorable time I’ve ever had in basketball.”

“That was my first college game,” said Amir Mazarei, who scored 15 against Villanova, third highest among the Bulldogs. “I didn’t know what to expect going in.”

“I’ve played in a few big games,” said Bulldog player Donald Brady, “and I’ve been to The (Anaheim) Pond (site of high school’s championship games). But nothing compared to playing Villanova.”

Adding to the flavor was major media coverage – TV, radio and large daily newspapers.

“We brought eight kids,” said Wright. “Five were on scholarship. The other three were walk-ons (non-scholarship players).”

At Redlands, every Bulldog player is a “walk-on.” There are no scholarships.

Yes, it was a game completely out of the ordinary, a middle-of-the-road small college team taking on a powerful presence in college basketball.

For visiting Villanova, it was a glance at small college basketball. Mazerai himself noted that Redlands plays in a 1,100-seat gymnasium – “nowhere close” to the 10,000-plus seat arenas that normally house Wildcat games.

For Redlands, it was a chance to rub elbows against a major college, Big East Conference program.

“They needed to dial up a win,” said Bulldogs’ longtime coach Gary Smith. “Originally, they were going to play Claremont (one of Redlands’ conference rivals) on Friday and then us the next day. But Temple was on their schedule and they forced Villanova to play that game. Claremont got aced out of a chance to play them.”

The game had come about due to a strange set of circumstances. Some Villanova players had unauthorized use of a telephone, making calls that were deemed “extra benefits” by an NCAA ruling. Sanctions were imposed. Some players had been suspended for six games. The school chose to take those suspensions over a six-game stretch – the final three of 2002-2003 and the first three games to start 2003-2004.

Wright spoke to me as if we were old friends – charming, personable, honest, you name it. If there’d been classes for dealing with the media, he probably got an A-plus.

“They had asked us to bring a representative team to Maui,” said Wright. “A lot of our alumni and boosters had bought tickets to that. It was up to us to field a decent team.

“All because of the phone issue.”

In order to carry its full roster in Maui, Villanova needed to get rid of that six-game sanction and clear its players.

When Villanova’s undermanned roster blasted Temple in a late Thursday night game back east, it seemed as if Redlands might be in for a worse beating early on Saturday.

Gary Smith (Photo by NorCal WIldcats)
Former University of Redlands basketball coach Gary Smith — wearing a Wildcats’ T-shirt — led his Bulldogs up against powerhouse Villanova at Currier Gymnasium in Nov. 2003. Redlands lost, but it wasn’t an easy win for the eventual NCAA champions. (Photo courtesy of the NorCal Wildcats.)

“A Big East team, of all things,” said Smith. “For them to be (competitive) in the game (against Temple), I think, was just amazing.”

Smith, said Sofro, “had warned us we could blown out of the gym.”

They played at Currier Gymnasium on Nov. 22, 2003. It was, said Smith, “the first time we’d ever played a D-1 (Division 1) school in our gym.”

Fifteen years after that, Villanova’s still the only D-1 team to show up and play Redlands.

Part 2 tomorrow … Villanova’s short team beat full-rostered Redlands.