Early day track star beat out jackrabbit

Special to the
Abilene Reporter-News
June 27, 2000

If Abilene Christian University's so-called "Texas Sports Dynasty of the Century" formally began with track coach Oliver Jackson back in 1948 - well, that's all right by 86-year-old Elmer Womack.

When ACU mounted a mammoth luncheon Saturday to honor coaches and athletes from the university's track heyday, low-key, good-humored Womack was just tickled to be around to witness it all.

Womack set a few track records of his own at what was then Abilene Christian College during the final days of the Great Depression. And while he doesn't exactly fall into the "dynasty" period so ordained by Texas Monthly, he's still a track legend.

After all, Elmer Womack was so fast that, during his days at Abilene Christian College, he actually outran a West Texas jackrabbit - probably his chief claim to fame after eight decades.

If that seems a relatively minor accomplishment, some of us should stop and reflect how, after so many years, we're known for even less than that.

Womack, who lives near Killeen, was something of an old-timer during his track days at ACC. Because he'd worked some before seeking a college education at a Church of Christ institution, he was older than many students and was fondly addressed as "Dad."

But, boy, could that "old man" run.

Even before the skinny athlete joined the track team, Womack gave evidence of his stamina, hitchhiking from East Texas to ACC. When he arrived in town, he had nary a cent and spent his first night sleeping beneath a billboard along Ambler Avenue.

"I didn't have a bit of money," he remembers.

Everything he owned was in his guitar case - and that obviously wasn't much because the case also contained a guitar, one he claimed was once played by Jimmie Rodgers, the so-called "Singing Brakeman."

Womack says he wasn't very good on the instrument, but it wasn't for lack of trying. He tried so much, in fact, the guitar finally fell to pieces.

But, again, Elmer Womack was good at running, enough to win an ACC scholarship. Skills gained from his boyhood - running several miles to pick up his father's paycheck at work, then all the way back home - left him a formidable athlete alongside the likes of Horace Templeton, Ray Rushing and Joe Beadles.

And then there was that jackrabbit.

Man vs. rabbit

In 1941, while the ACC track was being dragged and dust was flying, a large, floppy-eared, scared jackrabbit suddenly leaped into view and the chase was on, one involving several ACC track members, plus track coach Tonto Coleman.

"Around and around the baseball park, then down the field, over fences, across the football field, ran the long-legged animal with the track men and Tonto in hot pursuit," claimed an amused newspaper reporter of the day. "But besides growing fast jackrabbits in West Texas, they also grow fast men.

"Elmer Womack, returning relay man and holder of many distance records, soon overtook the animal, captured and returned the captive back to the stadium where, with broad grin and redness of face, he had his picture taken with his prize."

The jackrabbit was then turned loose, and the men returned to their dusty field tasks.

Both the jackrabbit and Womack went on to other things, now obscured by the dust of time. For Womack, that meant service during World War II, then work as a teacher and coach in Killeen and, still later, time spent as a truant officer.

In more recent years, Womack underwent a heart bypass operation during which doctors remarked he still had, in many ways, the heart of a young man, undoubtedly from his early athletic pursuits. But all that running through the years also wore out the rest of him, so that in old age he required new hips.

Today the details of Womack's days chasing area wildlife, running track at ACC and playing Jimmie Rodgers' guitar are fast fading. But last weekend he sheepishly took his place among those earlier athletes who laid the foundation for a virtual track dynasty reaching from ACU around the globe.

And how many of those much-ballyhooed later stars, I wonder, could actually outrun a West Texas jackrabbit?

Contact associate editor Bill Whitaker at 676-6732 or whitakerb@abinews.com. Check out Bill's previous columns at www.brazosbill.com.


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