Warszawski: Will hand be ready when track icon Fraley is ready to pass baton?

The Fresno BeeFebruary 15, 2014 

Then-Fresno State coach Bob Fraley walks with track and field team member Chris Berrian during a 2005 practice at Warmerdam Field. Fraley's voice has been a powerful one for his sport in the Valley for decades, but there's no clear-cut person to assume that role whenever he's finally ready to fully step away.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Bob Fraley hasn't lost an ounce of energy.

In fact, he's feeling more spry than he has in years having dropped 57 pounds since last summer.

"I've gone from an X-X-L to just an L," Fraley says in his customary Oklahoma-by-way-of-Kings-County drawl. "If I stood up wearing my old pants without suspenders, they'd fall off."

Seems the beloved Fresno State track and field coach isn't too old to learn a few things about nutrition and fitness. For months Fraley and his wife, Elaine, have avoided "toxic foods" like potato chips, French fries and soda that "create an appetite that makes you want to eat all the time." Every night, after dinner, he exits their small condo across from campus to "go out and walk 2,000 steps."

"I feel so much better," Fraley says.

That's great news, because we need him. Six years after Fraley "retired" (and 11 years since he, rather famously, started donating his salary to keep the program alive) he remains Fresno's primary track and field ambassador.

Fraley's Run for the Dream indoor meet, Sunday and Monday at the Save Mart Center, combines youth, high school, college and masters track. His annual Old Town Clovis Street Vault, held every summer since 1995, showcases pole vaulting in a unique, spectator-friendly setting.

There are no indications Fraley plans to slow down, either directing meets or promoting track and field and its numerous benefits. Especially now that he's taking better care of himself.

But the man is 76. Sooner or later our No. 1 proponent/mover-and-shaker for track and field will need a successor.

Who's going to take the baton?

"I don't know the answer, but you're asking the right question," says Red Estes, who preceded Fraley as Fresno State men's coach.

The Valley has produced or nurtured Hall of Famers in baseball (Tom Seaver, Frank Chance) and pro football (Jimmy Johnson) as well as winners of the Indianapolis 500 (Bill Vukovich) and Kentucky Derby (Decidedly).

However when it comes to sheer athletic accomplishments, track and field outdistances every other sport like a Mike Powell long jump.

The annals include two Olympic decathlon champions (Bob Mathias and Rafer Johnson), a double gold medalist in the 400 meters and 4x400 relay (Lee Evans), a gold medalist in the 200 (Tommie Smith) and the greatest vaulter during the era before fiberglass poles (Dutch Warmerdam).

And that's just skimming off the top.

In many ways, Fraley is our last link to that glorious past. The Hanford ranch where he grew up bordered one owned by Warmerdam's family. In 1980, when Warmerdam himself retired as Fresno State track coach, Fraley left his post at Lemoore High to become an assistant at his alma mater.

But what happens when Fraley finally decides he's ready for the slow lane? Who's next to carry the baton for track and field?

I posed that question to Scott Winsor, Fresno State's current coach. Since we'd never spoken before, Winsor looked at me a little funny. But he understood what I was getting at.

"It's a fair question. It is," Winsor said. "If I turn out to be that guy, great. I would love to be that guy. ... Just understand there's been a major transition in Fresno State athletics that started before I got here."

What Winsor is saying, but not saying, is that track and field no longer occupies the same position on the totem pole at our region's largest university.

While the Bulldogs still have a competitive women's team (i.e. scholarships), the men's team is made up entirely of walk-ons.

"It would be very tough for Red Estes or Bob Fraley to run the program successfully the way Scott Winsor has to do it," Estes says. "He's in a real tough situation. Basically, he's asking kids to come out and run for fun."

Next on the list was Eric Schwab, Fresno Pacific's track coach since 1994, whom I reached by phone.

"I cannot tell you, in all honesty, 'Yes, it's going to be me.' My job demands are very intense," says Schwab, who oversees more than 50 student-athletes on four teams, including cross country.

"I wish I could give you a better answer, but I don't have the contacts that Bob Fraley does. He comes from the Division I world and from the Olympic world. I come from NAIA and now Division II."

Schwab makes a good point. The Valley boasts many dedicated track coaches. Brian Weaver heads a top-notch program at Buchanan High and directs the CIF State Track and Field Championships. Central's James McEwen and his wife, Carol, are pillars on the youth level.

But none of them can touch Fraley when it comes to raising money or drawing community support.

A few months ago, the California Milk Advisory Board told Fraley that its typical $30,000 donation toward the Run for the Dream would be slashed to $5,000.

That kind of news -- a $25,000 cut -- would've killed just about every track meet in the country. But Fraley, by being who he is, was able to pick up the phone and persuade several local dairymen and dairy associations to make up the difference.

Soon after the checks started rolling in, including one for $1,252.01.

Why $1,252.01?

"Because that's how much the cow sold for at auction," Fraley says with a big smile.

Who's going to take the baton for Valley track and field? I'm not sure anyone else can lift it.


 Meet details

2014 RUN FOR THE DREAM INDOOR TRACK AND FIELD INVITATIONAL

Sunday: 6-10 p.m. California State Youth Indoor Meet; 6-8 p.m. Break the Barriers Disabled American Vets Events

Monday: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. VS Athletics California State Indoor High School Meet; 4:30-10:30 p.m. UCS Spirit California Collegiate Indoor Meet; 4:30-10:30 p.m. ON Track California Open Division Indoor Meet; 5-8 p.m. Sierra Running Co. Masters Invitational

Site: Save Mart Center

Tickets: Adults (13 or older) $10; students with ID $6; 60 or older $5; ages 2-12 $4; 1 and younger free

Details: www.runforthedream.com

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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