Black History Month and the state indoor track and field championships can't pass without mentioning Bruce Turner.
Four decades ago, Turner brought a reserved manner, sophisticated training methods and a pearl-handled starter's pistol to eastern Baltimore County. Turner, who died last month, laid the foundation for successful programs at several high schools, but of more lasting significance, he helped bring indoor track and field to this region.
Say there are 1,000 students in the typical public high school in the Baltimore area. Winter's the longest season, and it's also the one with the fewest opportunities for interscholastic competition. At best, 60 kids per school play varsity and junior varsity basketball, and another 20-25 boys are involved in wrestling.
Thanks to Turner, however, boys and girls in Baltimore County and elsewhere in the state have been participating in indoor track and field for more than three decades. Hundreds of boys and girls participating at state championships at the Fifth Regiment Armory this week owe a debt to Turner.
So do all of the great runners -- from Dave Patrick to Bob Wheeler to Karin Wagner to Amanda White -- who benefited from the emphasis Baltimore County has put on the running sports.
Along with Jack Manley, who was then at Catonsville High, Turner got indoor track and field rolling in the county. With the backing of some influential principals, Turner and Manley made arrangements with Maryland National Guard officials about holding meets at the Fifth Regiment Armory, and the sport wouldn't exist here without that facility.
The first county championship, in 1960, was held in the Dundalk gym, with Turner serving as the host coach. It was Turner who helped organize several invitational meets, including the Maryland National Guard Games, that served as the forerunner to a true state championship meet, first held in 1972.
"Bruce was very influential in helping the sport get started," Manley said. "Plus, after the county was integrated, I believe he was the first black to teach and coach white students. He was a wonderful guy, a very capable instructor and always a gentleman."
Turner wasn't much taller than 5 feet 6, but he was a standout high-jumper at Springfield (Mass.) College, a premier training ground for physical educators. After integration, he moved from Sollers Point High to Dundalk, where he developed state title-winning teams in cross country. He completed his career as an educator in 1978, at Overlea.
Jim Harrison, a physical education teacher at Stoneleigh Elementary, ran for Dundalk in the early 1960s and is one of the nation's top tri-athletes in the 45-50 age group.
"Bruce Turner is probably the reason I'm still competing," Harrison said. "He taught you to set goals, helped you achieve them, and then set new ones. He was way ahead of his time regarding training methods and nutrition. I was a senior when he transferred to Overlea and helped open that school. I'd still go to him for advice.
"He didn't just teach us about running. We were returning from an indoor meet -- I can't remember if it was in Annapolis or Washington once -- and stopped to eat at a restaurant. The waitress said, 'We can serve you, but not your coach.' We were ready to tear the roof off the place, but Mr. Turner calmed us all down and took us elsewhere."