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Recalling the close relationships of three long-ago track competitors who never forgot the ties

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Anniversaries are to create memories. And sometimes if the anniversaries are from long ago, the memories they bring come in clusters.

That's to set the stage for this very personal column that may only be interesting to readers who competed in college sports or who made very special college friendships, often in sports, that stood the test of time.
 
The memories came when my college roommate at Marquette University, Richard (Dick) McDermott, recently emailed me an announcement about MU celebrating 100 years of track and field.
 
There were actually three of us incoming track-team members who met for the first time in the fall of 1958 in the dressing room under Marquette Stadium a couple of miles from the Milwaukee campus and became fast friends.
 
McDermott and Terrance (Terry) Evans were both Milwaukee area high school runners who were convinced by track coach, Bus Shimek, to accept athletic scholarships to come to Marquette rather than other schools that sought their talents. Meanwhile I, from Spokane and not boasting offers from any other schools, was able to convince Shimek that my high school performance at Gonzaga Prep should make him want to have me attend Marquette on one of his six freshman scholarships.
 
I sought out Marquette because it was a prominent Jesuit university (my father had made it clear I would attend a Jesuit school) with what was considered one of the best journalism schools in the country and I knew then that I intended to have a career in journalism.
 
So McDermott, who focused on cross country running (he had been the Wisconsin high school champion), won several of his collegiate meets and Evans and I had modest success through our sophomore years. Evans won several of his 880-yard races and I won in the Wisconsin collegiate indoor in the quarter mile and took first in that event in dual meets against Notre Dame and Bradley. And in two relay races I passed the baton to Evans, winning one relay and taking second in the other. 
Mike DickMarquette teammates Dick McDermott, (lower left) and Mike Flynn, (upper right), from 1961 team photo

As a guy who capped his legal career with prominent New York law firm Rogers & Wells by helping put together his firm's merger with the London firm Clifford Chance to create one of the world's largest law firms, it was logical that McDermott's legal mind came into play with the anniversary,

He sent a note to the school's athletic director a few days ago questioning the 100 years tout, saying "how is it 100 years given that the school dropped track and football in December of 1960, never restored the football program and only restored track and field in the '70s?"

As McDermott wrote in his memo: "The university dropped track and cross country along with the football program, ruining the careers and disrupting the lives of student athletes who had been recruited from around the country."

"Even more heartbroken than the athletes that day was Coach Bus Shimek, who had coached a number of NCAA champions as well as Olympic medalists and was himself an NCAA two-mile champion at Marquette," McDermott wrote.

The best Marquette track star was Ralph Metcalf, who took second to Jesse Owens in the 100 in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and joined him on the Gold Medal 400-meter relay team.

Years later, Owens credited Metcalf, who later engaged in a long political career that was capped with his four terms as a congressman from Illinois, with helping his 16 Black teammates get through the Berlin Games. Remember, those Games were Hitler's event to show the world the talent of the Third Reich and the black competitors who diminished the German display were not appreciated,

But back to McDermott and Evans, neither of whom I had much contact with after I went home to Spokane in February of 1961 and transferred to Gonzaga, which did not have a track team. Thus I was left to focus on co-eds and academics (in that order) so met my wife-to-be, Betsy, in math class.

Dick and I had spoken once when he called me in Seattle in late 1965 to tell me of the birth of his first son.

And Terry and I spoke once when I called him in 1988 to ask if my son, Michael, could stay with him on a college-look-see visit to Marquette.

By then Evans was a U.S. District judge, named to the position in 1979 at the age of 39 as one of the youngest appointees ever to the Federal District Court. "We'll be on a trip at that time but he can certainly stay at our house...I'll leave a key," Evans said, an offer that Michael quickly rejected as not appropriate.

The close relationship that developed long ago between Evans and me sprang from things like the fact that, in track, I passed the baton to him in the mile relay and the relay team's performance depended on both of us, and we on each other.

Five decades on from our Marquette parting, I decided McDermott, Evans and I should reconnect so I reached out to the two of them and said "it's 50 years this September since we first met at Marquette Stadium so let's get together again in Milwaukee and bring our wives."

And so we did, spending several days together and visiting the campus, including a visit with the university president, thanks to McDermott's alumni prominence.

Evans had, by then, become a judge of the Seventh U.S. Circuit, appointed in 1995 by President Clinton at the recommendation of Wisconsin's Republican governor and its two Democratic U.S. Senators.

And what kind of a judge was he? I learned during our visit that a newspaper reporter had once asked him that question and his response was "that's like asking me if I'm a good kisser. I'd have to be on the receiving end to answer either question."

When a traveling carnival worker was found to have a rigged game, the penalty included the donation of 144 teddy bears to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

And according to CNET.com, Evans was the first federal judge to cite a YouTube video in an opinion, which occurred in July of 2007.

Evans and I didn't have an opportunity to explore how much the visit reconnected us because a couple of years later he died suddenly of a respiratory infection.

But McDermott and I reconnected from the moment he came into the workout room at the Pfister Hotel, saw me working out on the treadmill and rushed over, flashing a smile, and gave me a hug.

In the 15 years since that reunion, we have stayed connected, despite his living in New York and I in Bellevue. He reads my column regularly and reaches out to touch base and share thoughts on various sports, political or business things via phone or email.

So having spent three days of face time in the 62 years since I bid him goodbye and headed back to Spokane, McDermott, who remains a prof at Fordham Law School, has resumed being, and remains, one of my closest friends.

He may attend the 100-year celebration of MU track and field on June 10. I won't be able to be there.

McDermott was also critical, still, of MU dropping football, noting in his letter to the A.D.:"

The football program Marquette saw fit to abandon so abruptly had produced nine NFL draft picks in the previous three years and two NFL players who became Pro Bowl stars from that final team. And the 1960 team had the nation's second-leading passer who was drafted by the New York Giants." his letter to the athletic director ended thus:

"Lest I be misunderstood, I have not lost my devotion to Marquette. Twenty years ago, my wife Mary Pat and I established an endowed Blue & Gold Scholarship for the benefit of members of the women's lacrosse team. We remain grateful for our education and experiences at Marquette, particularly our meeting in the Brooks Memorial Union."

And I remain grateful to Dick for our meeting and remaining close friends, although unusual in time and distance.

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