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Pioneer of track and field to be honored at Westfield State

Date: 2/24/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- When Jerry Gravel was hired as Westfield State College's (WSC) track coach in 1969, he pioneered a new age of athletics at the institution with the birth of men's track and field.

The college had no track or a team of athletes to run on it in 1969 but over Gravel's 30-year career at WSC, he built a Division III program for men and women that boasted 32 All-Americans and 142 participants in various National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships.

On April 25, Gravel will be honored at WSC when the college unveils the "Jerry Gravel Track" during the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Track and Field Championships.

"What could be more appropriate than naming the college track after a coach, educator and mentor like Jerry Gravel?" WSC President Evan Dobelle asked. "So many of our former students were strengthened in many ways both on and off the track through their association with this fine educator."

During an interview with Reminder Publications from his home in southern California, Gravel said he feels honored and humbled by WSC's Board of Trustees' decision to name the track after him.

He explained that he worked diligently to recruit the best athletes possible and attributed the success of the track and field program to their efforts on the track.

During his tenure, Westfield State won two New England Championships and 20 MASCAC Championships.

"Our student-athletes sacrificed a lot through the years to be successful," Gravel said. "We won our first title before we even had a track. In 1974, the college owned five hurdles and four sets of starting blocks and we were able to win."

Now the college boasts a modern track and field facility, which was renovated in 2006 with state of the art equipment for over 85 WSC athletes to utilize.

"He's really the defining figure of our track and field program," Dave Caspole, Senior Development Coordinator for Athletics at WSC, said of Gravel. "He's much more than a coach to the people who competed under him."

Jim McGilloway, a 1978 graduate of WSC, described Gravel as a father figure.

"He took us under his wing, and taught us a lot both inside and outside of the classroom," McGilloway said. "Jerry has been a real good friend, and dedicated to Westfield State all his life."

Since his retirement from coaching track and field and as an associate professor of movement science at WSC in 1999, Gravel has moved to southern California where he teaches part time at MiraCosta Community College.

Caspole noted that in honor of Gravel and the 40th anniversary of WSC's track and field program, college alumni will work to raise $100,000 in an effort to continue athletic excellence pioneered under Gravel's tutelage.

For additional information about the fundraiser, contact Caspole at 572-8198 or at