George R. Butler, 75, UM pole vaulter who coached track

April 29, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

George Robert Butler, a champion University of Maryland pole vaulter who later coached the sport at College Park, died of Parkinson's disease and bone cancer Wednesday at his home in Delta, Pa. He was 75.

During his nearly 30-year career at College Park, Mr. Butler coached several generations of world record-holders and champion pole vaulters.

Born and raised in Delta, Mr. Butler became a high jumper and pole vaulter while attending Delta High School.

"It was the Depression and no one had any money in those days, so his first pole was fashioned from a tree which he had cut down in the forest," said a son, William J. Butler of Corning, N.Y.

He was 16 when he left high school and enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II. While serving in Hawaii as a teletype operator, he was also a member of an Army Air Forces track and field team.

At the end of the war, he moved to Havre de Grace and graduated from high school in 1948. With the aid of the GI Bill and athletic scholarships, Mr. Butler was able to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1954. He also established the school's pole-vaulting record at the time of 12 feet, 6 1/2 inches.

Mr. Butler began his teaching and coaching career in Prince George's County public schools in 1954. He later was a guidance counselor at Glenridge Junior High School in Landover Hills, until retiring in 1973.

The same year he began teaching, he also began working as an unpaid assistant track coach at the University of Maryland, a position he held until retiring in 1973. He returned in 1983 and continued coaching until retiring again in 1989.

During the 1960s, he was head track coach for three years at Catholic University of America in Washington and also coached at Essex Community College in the early 1980s. He was assistant pole vault coach at the Naval Academy from 1985 to 1989.

In 1970, he was selected as head coach for the U.S. Olympic Pole Vault Competition that was held at Duke University.

"He dominated the event for 30 years, with the exception of only one year. No one has a better record than George Butler. He was the top dog," said Jim Kehoe, former UM track and field coach, and later athletic director. "He dominated the sport as a coach for so long and so well."

Mr. Kehoe, a Chesapeake Beach resident who is now retired from UM, praised Mr. Butler's abilities.

"He had that indefinable something. He had the touch, feel and ability and the record clearly shows that. Every year he had any number of Atlantic Coast Conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association champions and they were always outstanding," he said.

"He coached some of the best guys in the world, and his genius was getting them to have confidence in themselves," said his son, a former pole vaulter who had been coached by his father.

Among those many champions he coached was John Uelses, known as "the Marine in Orbit," who was the first to break the 16-foot mark.

In 1962, before a crowd of thousands at Boston Garden, Mr. Uelses established a new world record of 16 feet, 3/4 inches.

Buddy Williamson, an All-American pole vaulter and national NCAA champion who lives in Gambrills, was coached by Mr. Butler while a student at UM from 1968 to 1970.

"He didn't coach the same way for everyone. He realized that everyone was different and an individual. He wanted those who had high aspirations and then he'd help get them there," he said.

"He'd spend hours working with me on technique. He'd stay as long as it took, and there were many times when it was getting dark and we were still in the stadium working," he said.

"He always took pride in the kid who may have had a little potential but had a great heart," his son said.

In 1973, Mr. Butler moved from Laurel to a farm in Delta that straddles the Maryland and Pennsylvania state line.

For many years, Mr. Butler volunteered with Harford County public schools in the home tutoring program.

He was a member of Delta United Methodist Church.

Services were yesterday.

Mr. Butler is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Jocelyn James; another son, John K. Butler of Delta; three daughters, Rebecca B. Donohue of Whiteford, Julia Butler Fischer of Delta and Harriotte Paige Bredberg of Wake Forest, N.C.; a sister, Ana Marie Smith of Havre de Grace; and 10 grandchildren.

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