Ross Moore & Wayne Vandenburg – Two Historic UTEP Sports Figures Still Strike a Chord

By Mark S. McDonald, Under-qualified but unrelenting UTEP correspondent

Once in a great while, a UTEP post strikes home, triggering unpredictable reader reaction. It recently happened, not once, but twice — with a flurry of comments on former Miners track coach Wayne Vandenburg and the late trainer, Ross Moore. Here are nuggets from the mine shaft:

(Editor’s note: In spite of his national championships and immense popularity with Miners fans, unconfirmed word on the street has it Vandy spent himself into trouble with UTEP administration. A rapid-fire talker, Wayne reportedly was prone to running up massive phone bills while jabbering to his talent scouts in Europe. Such irony. Today, Wayne could recruit the same great athletes, using email, not telephone, at minimal expense.)

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From pole vaulter Dennis Sledge:

Wayne Vandenberg
Wayne Vandenberg, left, with his brother Russ.

“He was a complex guy as a coach, he was upbeat, made you feel important, like you were his best friend. But Wayne was very principled. There was a line you didn’t cross.

“I enjoyed competing for him, wish I could have been a better producer. He was generous with me. I was really disappointed when he was fired my junior year. I was working on the decathlon and hoped to concentrate on it my senior year. But two of our other pole vaulters left when he was fired and I had to concentrate on the pole vault, since they didn’t have decathlons in every meet.”

Sledge on UTEP’s world-class athletes recruited by Vandy:

Kidd Field
UTEP’s Kidd Field was once a national stage for track & field events.

“(The late) Paul Gibson (of Carlsbad, N.M.) was probably the best athlete I was ever around. His best friend, Fred DeBernardi was another great athlete. Often after they had completed their workouts for their events they would run 40-yard dashes against each other. It was always close and occasionally Fred, at 6-7, 265, would win. I really liked both of those guys.  Fred was at the reunion and is still like a big ole kid.”

(Editor’s note: Fred DiBernardi was a freak of nature. Tried out for football one year, and suited out like Gorgo. Think Bob Lilly, only taller. When we reported in August, every team member had run the “Bobby Dobbs Mile” for time. Backs ran with backs and receivers, linemen ran with linemen. “DeeBo,” as we called him, cruising effortlessly with the backs and receivers, towering over the smaller guys while matching them stride for stride. Unfortunately, DeeBo’s unmatched size-speed package did not translate to the gridiron. His incredibly strong body, could not overcome weak football fundamentals.)

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Reader Marilyn Cromeans is a Miner forever and the daughter of our late trainer Ross Moore:

Ross Moore
The late Ross Moore, trainer extraordinaire.

“Dad’s 108th birthday was (recently). I know he loved you guys. He had a name for everyone. I miss him and my mother so much.”

(Editor’s note: Your note got me to thinking about your father and why he meant so much to me and my UTEP teammates. It’s puzzling, really, because when it came to social graces, Mo treated us like crap. All of us. Mo called most athletes “peckerhead.” I was a two-year, senior starter, and Mo still referred to me as “freshman.” The note of disdain was so noticeable, he almost spit the words on the floor. As if I were a tropical disease. But I think that beneath his crusty exterior, there were two things Mo could not hide — without question, he knew what he was doing, and, deep down, he cared about us athletes. He was giving us what we needed to succeed. To me, that’s what made the old buzzard great.As his daughter, you miss your father. You know how I still feel about the guy. Just guessing, but I think plenty of Miners forever miss Ross Moore, too.”)

 


 

Mark McDonald is a UTEP journalism grad and two-year letterman in football. His new non-fiction historical narrative traces college football and American culture back to the 1960s. To order Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons ($30 plus S&H), visit the website BeyondTheShootout.com.

 


 

Vandy Still a Dandy — Hall of Fame UTEP Coach in Full Stride

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.

VandenburgHOF08
“Vandies Dandies” were an enormous draw to home meets in the late 1960s.

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.

Wayne Vandenburg
UTEP Hall of Fame track coach Wayne Vandenburg — forever an optimist and a Miner forever — is always looking up.

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.}