Oscar Moore has had one of the greatest distance running and coaching careers in the history of US Track and Field. Besides being a smooth runner, Moore now 72 and living in Glassboro NJ is also one of the humblest and “smoothest” people you could meet. His modesty belies the scope of his achievements. It’s up to others to tell his story. Among his accomplishments: National class runner with a wide range of US championships from the mile to the marathon, 1964 US Olympian, Record setting Masters Runner and Hall of Fame Coach at Glassboro/Rowan University in Glassboro NJ. Others who have never seen him run know him as Mr. Moore, a teacher and director of recreation for Rowan University who has directed physical fitness opportunities at the college for thousands of people, especially students and senior citizens. We recently sat down to talk to Coach Moore about his storied life and accomplishments.
How did you get your start? “My friend and I were seniors at White Plains (New York) High School and we were wondering how we could earn a varsity letter before we graduated. I said how about football? My friend was a big guy and he said “no, I can’t play football, my mom won’t let me.” We had a super basketball team so we knew we would only be able to make JV. The only thing left was track. So we decided to go out for track. He threw the shot and the coach asked me what I wanted to run. I wasn’t sure. He said do you want to be a sprinter? I said no, those guys look too fast. So he said OK, we’ll put you in the half mile. They put me in the 800 and we would always take one- two. I would come in second, I ran 2:12 and the other guy on the team ran 2:11. The guy that would beat me would always be bent over, throwing up. I thought “This race is not for me because I don’t feel that way, I don’t feel too bad, I must not be doing this right!” I thought I was supposed to be doing the same thing as him but I was walking around after the race feeling fresh. I didn’t want to pass him during the race because he was an upper classman and had been out for the team.
The coach said would you like to run the mile? I was sitting in the stands and it didn’t look too fast, so I said ok. They put me in the mile and I ran a 4:45 in the mile in my first race and broke the school record and qualified for the state meet. I was entered in the state meet but stopped with my friend, a shot putter for lunch on the way. He bought a hoagie with lettuce, tomatoes mayonnaise and a Pepsi. I said give me the same with a 7 up. I started the race and the coach was yelling stay with the leader, but two laps into it my stomach felt lousy. I finished third. The coach asked me “What happened”? I told him what happened but I thought the coach should have told me more about what to eat before the race or what type of shoes to wear. I wore inch and a half spikes with no heel for the races. I didn’t know any better. I got shin splints in both legs and didn’t know what they were. I had to walk so slow I’d always be late for class and have to tell the teacher “my legs hurt”. But once I got to practice I’d be ready to go. The coach had me doing 20 quarters (five miles), sprinting the straight-aways by myself. Then at the end of the season at the varsity letter awards ceremony the coach got up and talked about one runner for five minutes. I was wondering who he was talking about, and then at the end he said “and that’s Oscar Moore”. Everyone at the assembly was looking around saying “Who’s that?”
My cousin (1968 Olympian) Larry James and Craig Masbach also graduated from White Plains High. Larry was younger than me, he used to come to my house when he was little and look at my trophies and say “I’m going to be a runner some day.” He went to Villanova to run intermediate hurdles and then switched over to the 400 and of course made the Olympics in 1968. Larry was 10 years younger than me, and we were sad that he passed away in 2008. No one from his family ran, and no one from my family ran, but we both made the Olympic team.”
“My senior year of high school I joined the Marine Corps reserves. When I graduated I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, what school to go to. I didn’t have a scholarship but I was interested in the military because my father was in the Merchant Marines. Everyone said I was too small for the Marines, that I would never make it. I took that as a challenge and joined the marines. I didn’t have time to run in basic training, but when we would do the obstacle course I would always win. The drill instructor would say “Moore, you better not pass me!” as I ran by. Then when we would do judo he would say “Moore, run at me like you are going to stab me.” Like a dummy I would, and he would send me flying. I was little and he felt good throwing me all around. The next day we’d be on that obstacle course and I’d kill him again. You had to run, crawl under barbed wire and jump over a big wall, when I’d get done I’d help some of the older guys finish the course. Once I finished boot camp and was stationed on the west coast I started jogging again. I was stationed in Japan for 15 months and won an all armed forces mile race. I was the only Marine to win so they gave me a three day pass. Then the Navy said “Marine, why don’t you run on our relay, we need a miler.” We got second, and I just kept training.”
New York Pioneers
“I came back to the states and moved back to New York City and I ran against Vic Zwolak (1963 NCAA Steeplechase champion) and Alex Breckenridge (both from Villanova) and did well.
I joined the Pioneers and trained with them for six months before one of the Pioneers asked me what race I’d like to do. I told them I’d like to be a miler. They said, “OK. Well there’s a race this weekend—a ten miler.” I ran it and won it. I hadn’t run ten miles before; I was averaging about 20 miles a week. The good guys in the club like Olympians Ted Corbitt and Gordon McKenzie weren’t there; they were in Pennsylvania running the Berwick (PA) race. After I won the Pioneers coach asked me “how come you weren’t with the other top runners at Berwick?” I didn’t know them, hadn’t even met them yet; I had been training with the sprinters in the Armory running speed work and half miles. Then I met Ted Corbitt and the other top Pioneer runners two races later. Gordon McKenzie would beat me in the six mile races, I would come in second and Ted would win the half marathons. Ted talked me into running my first marathon. In December of 1964 he said I’ll run with you to step you through it. During the race he told me to get up with the leaders, that he and the other Pioneers were only doing a 20k workout. I passed the leaders and won easily in a light snowfall.
Sometimes Ted would run around the Island of Manhattan-- thirty five miles. I went with him one time. It was a beautiful run starting at Yankee Stadium-- where a lot of road races would start because you could use the showers, passing the Polo Grounds, the Statue of Liberty. I made it about 25 miles, near the United Nations and I ran out of gas. I had to call my sister for a ride; I didn’t want to get a cab because I was in my running shorts. We would also run up the steps of the Empire State Building once a month, now they have a race there. I remember passing Muhammad Ali training, running the other way at the reservoir in Central Park for a while very morning. He had a big entourage and you couldn’t get close to him, but he would wave and say “Hey brother!” I would wave and say “Hey brother!” back.
“When I was training for the Olympics, I was working for a Jewelry company in mid Manhattan and I had a pretty important position. I was working almost ten or more hours a day--mostly standing on my feet all day. I would train sometimes at 10 or 11 at night, and 5am in the morning. (Playboy Magazine had written an article on me and mentioned the fact that I lost my job in trying to train for the Olympics). Arnold Bakers heard what happened and told me not to worry-- that when I returned home from the Olympics, that they had a job waiting for me. I saved the magazine”
In 1963 Moore also competed for the U.S. track team vs. Russia and the U.S. vs. British Commonwealth Games. He ran at the 1964 National AAU Championships and finished third in the 10,000 meters and sixth in the 5,000 meters.
“I qualified for the Olympic team 5000 at Rutgers (NJ). I had met the qualifying time in both the 5,000 and 10,000. In the 10,000 qualifying race, I was in the lead at 5000 meters and heard the time of 13:40, near my best time for an open 5000. For some reason when I heard the time, I mentally decided to drop out of the race. My coach asked me to try to qualify for the 5000 next. In the 5000, I needed to cut about 15 seconds off to make the team and I did. Ted Corbitt scolded me for not trying to also qualify in the marathon. I didn’t know anything about the qualifying race, when or where it was. I didn’t expect to qualify in the 10k and had only brought an overnight bag. They told me to go home and pack some clothes to come back to train with the Olympic team in the Coliseum in Los Angeles. We were there a whole month training with no meets. We did get to meet the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis) though. We spent a week in LA, they gave us shots, dental work, (they thought cavities would affect your muscles), and an EKG. I found out I had a heart murmur and a pulse of 38. Then we went overseas for three weeks more of training. The Olympic coach didn’t correspond with me and with all that time on my hands and I over-trained. (Oscar finished 8th in 14:24 in the 1964 Olympic 5000 meters in Tokyo).
Southern Illinois University
After the Marines, Oscar accepted a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University. “The track coach at SIU, Lew Hartzog had a big Texas drawl, and he came to my neighborhood in Harlem to recruit me. I had beaten some collegiate mile champions in a New York road race in Yonkers to get his interest.”
“At SIU I raced Jim Ryun in a dual meet. He beat me by two seconds in the mile. I had a quick recovery so I was ready to go quickly after the race and was able to beat him in the 3 mile. You’re more relaxed in that second race when you double.” Note: Oscar Moore still holds the Southern Illinois school record in the indoor 3,000 meters (7:59.98) and 5,000 meters (13:51.20) and the outdoor 5,000 meters (13:51.20). He is fifth all-time in the 10,000 meters (29:27.77). During his career, he set new Drake, Kansas, Texas and Florida Relay marks and earned All-America honors six times. He ran the two, three and six mile events, in addition to the 5,000 meters. He won NCAA titles in 1967 and ran the third fastest three mile ever indoors, an astonishing feat considering SIU’s lack of an indoor training facility.
“Before the 1968 Olympic trials I was in great shape and ran the Sugar Bowl Meet in New Orleans. I had won the 3 mile there the year before. I hurt my Achilles tendon before the race, led for the first mile and then my Achilles tendon swelled up to the size of my calf right after the race. The coach told me to get a shot of cortisone for it-- that was my biggest mistake. I kept training and got another shot of cortisone hoping the running would reduce the swelling. Finally I had to get it operated on and they had to cut through the scar tissue (from running on it). My one tendon was shorter and they told me I wouldn’t run again. I had special shoes with the backs cut out and I started to run again. I had to start from scratch-- one mile and slowly building up, stopping when it hurt. I had one more year of eligibility and I won my first race (a 6 mile) and I showed the clipping to the doctor who said I’d never be able to run again.” Because of his Achilles, Oscar did not attempt to qualify for the 1968 Olympics. His cousin Larry James of course earned a silver medal in the 400 and a gold medal on the record setting 4 x 400 relay team in the 1968 games.
Oscar: “I remember training at altitude in the Olympic altitude training camp in Colorado with Gerry Lindgren; we were the only two to double in the national championships. I loved running through the desert at altitude, watching the jack rabbits. We would put socks over our shoes and run up mile and a half sand dunes created by the glaciers below the mountains. It was great time having nothing to do but train and I got my mileage up to 80-90 per week. When I would run on the campus of Southern Illinois University people would ask me where the race was. After warming up with the first mile of the run I would run hard. The hard pace worked my heart and enabled me to recover quickly.”
Gerry Lindgren remembers: “In 1968 at the altitude training camp up at Echo Summit, they were doing testing on the athletes. I went in with Oscar and they took our pulse rate at the same time. His resting heart rate was like 36 beats a minute. I teased him, "Oscar, I bet your mom has to come in to your room in the middle of the night to wake you up because it is time for your heartbeat!"”
“I met Bill Fritz when he was a graduate student and assistant coach at Southern Illinois, and I was a fifth year student going for my masters. I didn’t go home over the summer; I stayed at Southern Illinois and trained. We became friends and I baby sat for him and he’d have me over his house for dinner. Fritz was also a good runner. He got an offer to come to Glassboro as a professor and cross country coach. Glassboro didn’t have a track program. I had just finished running ten miles when I saw Fritz had come back to Southern in his little Volkswagen. He hollered out the window “Oscar do you have a job yet?” I was waiting for Winter Haven Florida College to get back to me, and I was also waiting for Saginaw, Michigan to get back to me. I was trained to be a city recreation administrator for a city and I was hoping to do that in Saginaw, but I hadn’t heard from them yet. Fritz said “Glassboro is looking for a track coach to start a track program”. I sent out a resume that night and got a call for an interview for a job as teacher and director of recreation within the health and Phys Ed department. After the interview, before I got back to Southern Illinois, I got a call that I had gotten the job so I turned around to come back. When I got to New Jersey they told me I had an 11:00 clock class the next day. I got lost on the way to Glassboro and spent the night in a flimsy hotel in Williamstown NJ before making it to Glassboro to teach the class the next day.
Fritz had long beautiful hair and I had a little afro. The president of the college put his arms around us and said “So when are you two guys going to get a haircut?” We never did.
So we started coaching together in 1971 when I assisted him with cross country. The Glassboro/Rowan track team started racing in 1972.”
Under Oscar Moore the Glassboro/ Rowan teams competed at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships for 20 straight years, and captured five straight national titles from 1980-84. The men’s team also took second place in 1978 and 1979. The 1982 NCAA championship team still holds the record for most points (119) scored at the NCAA Championship. The five national outdoor crowns is the third most in Division III history.
Tom Osler Rowan Professor, running author and AAU Champion: “Oscar is a beautiful man with a big heart. I would also agree with Browning that he is the smoothest runner I’ve ever seen.
Ted Corbitt always referred to him as “the great Oscar Moore”. When training with him I would pick up the pace to below six mile pace and I would look over at Oscar and he would look totally relaxed and he would easily respond, and wouldn’t even break a sweat at the faster pace.
Gary Corbitt (son of long distance running pioneer and Hall of Famer Ted Corbitt): “I had the opportunity to see Oscar Moore run quite often in the 1960’s before he entered SIU. Actually during these years there was few races track, cross-country, or road races that I missed. Two races I did miss that I always wished I had seen were races Oscar ran. The first was a Met AAU 20K championship on the MacCombs course at Yankee Stadium. Pete McArdle rarely lost a race but on this date Oscar beat Pete. I remember my father describing the battle and I still remember wishing I had been there. The second race was the 1969 NCAA Cross Country Championship at Van Cortlandt Park. I was in my first semester of college and missed this Gerry Lindgren and Steve Prefontaine match-up at Van Cortlandt. I was recently reviewing the results of this race and noted that Oscar place in the top 15 or top 20.
I remember his running form to be smooth, beautiful, and fluid. He was a special athlete to watch in action. I followed his career at SIU and his range was phenomenal as he was competitive from one mile and up. (As one of the first African American US Olympic Distance Runners) Certainly Oscar made history in 1964. I believe there was at least one black distance runner who competed in an Olympiad in the 20’s at the 5k or 10k or perhaps at cross country. The club Oscar ran for New York Pioneer Club should be noted. An integrated club started by Joe Yancey in 1936. The Pioneers predated Jackie Robinson’s integration of baseball by 10 years. Here’s a portion from a Dec 5, 1971 letter from my father to Oscar where he tried to encourage him to try for a spot on the 1972 Olympic marathon team:
“I note your One Hour run with interest. This is the sort of thing you want to include in your training and you will want to get to the point where you can run 5 minute miles for 10 miles with no undue strain. In fact, a workout which has been suggested before should be good for you. One day every so often you run 10 miles on the track in the morning in 50 minutes. Later that afternoon you run another one on the track in 50 minutes. I suggest you try this one day this month. However, this is a tough one and you might try a build up to reach the double 50 minutes (or better) series and right now try to run 5:10 a mile which would mean a 51:40 effort. The next time aim for 5:05 and then 5:00 per mile on the third attempt.“I was thankful to have Oscar at my father’s service to read scripture and recall some stories.”
Sid Holzer, one of Oscar’s runners at Rowan in the 1970’s: “Oscar was a great coach and is a great person. He knew how to bring out the best in us as runners and students. He would always be there to give us advice on any problems we had. He also treated all the runners the same, from the best to the worst.”