GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

September 6, 2013

My View: The first Newell dedication – in 1923

“Before an assembly of 5,000 people, a colorful and eventful assemblage, too, athletic history for Gloucester was recorded on Saturday afternoon when was staged the track and field championships of the New England Association of the Amateur Athletic Union.

“And it served a four-fold purpose, the deciding of New England champions for 1923, the selection of a team for the National Championships at Chicago on Friday, Saturday and Monday coming, the opening feature of the Gloucester’s 300th anniversary celebration, and the new athletic field on Centennial Avenue.

“Yet in spite of the handicaps of the elements, rain, wind, thunder, lightning, and lots of it, it was a tremendous success.”

So reported the Gloucester Daily Times on Monday, Aug. 27, 1923.

As Gloucester celebrates the long-awaited rebirth of the high school’s track and field at Newell Stadium, it’s a good time to take a look back at the dramatic day this storied place of sport first came to be.

Prohibition reigned, Calvin Coolidge was our new President, Babe Ruth was hitting .401 for the Yankees, and the City of Gloucester marked its 300th anniversary.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, 1923 — kicking off a week long city-wide celebration — the Centennial Avenue Track (named Newell Stadium many years later) made its debut. With a backdrop of heavy skies, rain and lightning, our home field hosted the New England Association Amateur Athletic Union Championships.

That inaugural event featured perhaps the most elite group of track and field athletes ever to gather here. More than 150 of New England’s best competed in 22 events, and the stakes were high. Competition was not just for east coast supremacy, but a shot at the National Championships in Chicago a week later. Winners there would move on to the Paris Olympics of 1924.

James Henigan was here on that stormy opening day. The former American Cross Country Champion was called “the most famous distance runner in the world” by a Boston sports columnist. He easily bested a field of twenty in the five mile race in spite of occasional “ankle deep mud.”

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