By Mark S. McDonald, undocumented UTEP railbird
Wayne Vandenburg was on fire the other night, poking at a plate of enchiladas at a Permian Basin café, serving up 55 years of UTEP athletics for dessert.
Vandy came to Texas Western from the University of New Mexico to coach the track/field and cross-country teams. He was 24. From 1968-72, with the young firebrand leading the way, the Miners were spooky-good:
- One national team title, a runner-up and numerous finishes among the top seven;
- 57 NCAA all-Americans;
- 2 world-record holders and an Olympic champ.
Now 77, going on 38, Vandy had started this busy day at his home near Dallas. Making his way west on the interstate, he stopped for meetings in Weatherford, Abilene and Odessa. Next morning, he was headed for Monahans, then driving back to Dallas. Between incoming phone calls from friends and his real estate investment business office in Chicago, the Miners Hall of Fame coach conducted a memory-walk … back to one of those UTEP/Southern Cal/Oregon triangular meets … world-class athletes in competition … the roar of the Kidd Field crowd bouncing off the mountains and rumbling against your chest.
Wayne is one of those rare guys who can go full blast into any project, at any time, and never once question his own choices. Most guys like that are insufferable. A two-legged jackass. Case in point: Baseball manager Billy Martin. And that new senator from New York appears to have the same toxic blend of arrogance and ignorance. Not Wayne Vandenburg.
Full of energy and optimism — to go with contacts far and wide — I always thought Wayne would have been the ideal athletics director, at a time when UTEP was growing. Who better to capitalize on the 1966 national basketball title and the ’67 bowl victory over an SEC team? Instead, fate went against my wishes, and against Wayne Vandenburg.
Vandy in 1970 embraced the very UTEP black athletes he released. Several Miners planned to boycott, in support of protests against racial discrimination nationwide. Vandy sympathized with the message but not the means, and fired them all. Bam. There went UTEP’s chance for another track/field championship.
But a few years ago, the tracksters of yesteryear gathered for a reunion, former athletes coming back to El Paso from hither and yon. Hugs and laughter all around, with nary a word of angst to be heard.
In a two-way show of loyalty so rare today, Miners with retreating hairlines and advancing waistlines still love Wayne Vandenburg. Can you blame them? What’s not to love?
McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year starter in football. His 350-page, fully-illustrated historical narrative, entitled Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, covers the aftermath of the epic Arkansas vs. Texas football Shootout of 1969. Cost is $29.95 + shipping. For convenience of credit card, visit BeyondTheShootout.com.}