Idle American: Running Life’s Race…


To describe the workouts he directed as “grueling” might be an extreme understatement if the athletes who ran for late track coach J. H. (Cap) Shelton are consulted.

Known as the “dean of Texas track coaches,” he served at Howard Payne University--his alma mater--for 49 years. He worked long hours daily in numerous faculty and administrative posts, but was always best known for coaching.

Pushing himself in a “can-‘til-can’t” approach to life perhaps explains his preference for distance runners. Not all track stars run fast, but he quickly identified the ones determined to run the longer races. His teams won 14 championships in the old Texas Conference, three in Lone Star and one national cross country championship….

One who “soaked up” his mentoring was Glenn Petty, former Athletic Director at Abilene Public Schools who died February 2 at the age of 82.

Like “Cap,” he taught life first and sports second.

He, too, was a lifelong educator, as have been dozens of others who were track and field athletes at HPU….

Petty, a track star at Odessa High School, spent 42 years in education, including 26 in Abilene ISD, where he was Athletic Director for the last five years of his career.

Deeply admired at his points of service along the way--El Paso, Odessa, Big Spring, Odessa and Abilene ISDs--he was head track coach at Abilene Cooper, then HPU, before returning to Abilene as principal of Mann Middle School. He was twice named Texas Regional Middle School Principal of the Year and was a member of the HPU Sports Hall of Fame.

Cheering him on were Sandie, his wife of 60 years, and children Glenda, Glenn Jr. and Christi, as well as four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren….

Probably the determination for which Glenn is remembered was noted during his freshman year.

Running on the HPU cross country team at the national championship race in Omaha, he and more than 130 other runners faced sub-freezing temperature and falling snow.

“We were about a mile into the four-mile race, and a runner next to Glenn somehow grazed Glenn’s shoe, and it went flying,” said Willie Myers, a senior teammate running slightly ahead.…

He asked , “What do I do now?” Myers remembers. “I told him to stop, find the shoe and put it back on, but he would have none of it.”

Sure enough, Glenn kept running, miraculously completing the hilly course, despite pain inflicted by acorns and other objects in the snow on his shoeless foot.

“I never saw a limb more swollen the next day, doubled in size,” Myers recalls. The backstory headline captured the essence: “Snow Flies, Shoe Flies, He flies.”….

He ran when races were measured by yards rather than meters, a U.S. change in the 1970s to conform with the rest of the world.

In 1960, Glenn ran the 880-yard event in 1:54.5, winning at the LSC track meet and becoming the first HPU athlete to win a conference running event as a freshman.

David Noble, himself an HPU alumnus and former track coach at HPU and Angelo State University, still considers the “change to meters” as a mistake which has set the sport back here….

Glenn loved students. He also had interests all over the board. He enjoyed golf, woodworking, reading and spending time with family and friends.

A conversationalist who knew about much, he’d look up (okay, Google) what he didn’t know, then continue conversations. (One friend said he talked at 300 words a minute, with gusts to 350!)

He looked forward to overnight outings with college track buddies and spouses. They met annually--lately in Fredericksburg--for about the past 30 years….

His heart weakening, he remained an encourager to the end. I received his email a few days before his death. It urged me to “keep on keeping on.”

Glenn contributed much and finished well.

This friend will be greatly missed…..

Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, writes weekly and speaks throughout the state. Contact: 817-447-3872. Email: Facebook: Don Newbury.