Ohio Track Club Girls Team helped get today’s women athletes on front page

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Ohio Track Club Girls Team helped get today’s women athletes on front page

Written by Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace on 17 June 2019.

On June 15th the Ohio Track Club Girls Team held their 60th reunion at the Polaris Grill. They were formed in Columbus in 1959 by Jim Lorimer — an ex-FBI agent, Cold Warrior, Nationwide Insurance executive and sports entrepreneur — with help from Harry McKnight — ex-Ohio State pole vaulter and longtime teacher and coach at East High and Walnut Ridge.

A tip of the cap to these men of vision, who are in their early 90s, still upright and still revered by the champions they trained.

A hearty thank you to the 14 former athletes, now grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who helped change the world. They were teenage athletes at a time when they were supposed to gearing up for a life of cooking, cleaning, having babies and looking nice for their husbands.

Listen: In 1953, Arthur Daley of The New York Times — the first sports columnist to win a Pulitzer Prize — wrote, “There is nothing feminine or enchanting about a girl with beads of perspiration on her alabaster brow.”

Listen: The Ohio High School Athletic Association sponsored zero championships for girls between 1939 and 1976. According to the OHSAA’s own history, this was because the public questioned “the advisability or inadvisability of the participation of young girls in interscholastic sports in general.”

Listen: On Thursday, Estelle Baskerville (Diehl) said, “There’s something about going in a gym that brings back some sweet memories. When I’m in a women’s locker room and I smell sweat, it smells like Chanel No. 5 to me.”

Baskerville does not have an alabaster brow, but half her teammates in the 1960s did. And, oh, did they sweat. The Ohio Track Club Girls Teams filled trophy cases with medals they won in state, regional, national and international track and field competitions throughout the 1960s.

Baskerville, who once held the national record in the high jump and competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, was among the most highly decorated. But she was just one of many Ohio Track Club girls who thrived in what was one of the most important women’s Olympic development clubs in the country.

“There was zilch in the way of opportunity when I started junior high,” Baskerville said. “All we had was the Girls Athletic Association competition and the club system. And at the time, Tennessee State was the only school that provided scholarships to girls.”

Lorimer sought the best young female athletes at a time when nobody else was looking. He found them in the inner city of Columbus and he found them in the suburbs. Their practice regimen — they might run at East High’s Harley Field in the morning and Worthington High in the evening — reflected their diversity.

At the time, Sports Illustrated was celebrating an all-white Texas track club with a cover story (“Flamin’ Mamie’s Bouffant Belles”) and leaving Wilma Rudolph (three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Games) to the inside pages. And the Columbus girls were traveling the country and climbing podia wherever they went.

The opportunity they were afforded and the confidence they derived from it opened up their lives. They grew up and went to college. Many of them earned advanced degrees. They became educators, coaches, social workers, lawyers, performing artists, writers and police officers and, yes, even homemakers. They could be what they wanted to be.

Five decades later ...

“I’m really happy seeing women playing soccer make the front page of The New York Times,” Baskerville said. “There’s still a ways to go, but if you look at past Olympic Games and how well we’ve done internationally in the past year — the women did better than the men. These girls are awesome!”

Yes, they are. Cheers.

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More on Jim Lorimer –

Jim Lorimer's Unxpected Path:  From the Ohio Track Club to the Arnold Sports Festival - 


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