In 1976, Mickey Mantle told reporters he got goose bumps when he entered Yankee Stadium. He said he could feel the spirits of Yankee greats past and present walking around him. That legendary ballpark in the Bronx is a baseball museum. For track and field, that museum is Elmer Gray Stadium.
Former Olympians, world record holders, world champions and even NFL Hall of Fame members have competed on Elmer Gray’s hallowed ground. Names like Bobby Morrow, Billy Olson, Michael Johnson and Wilma Rudolph have practiced their trades in the stadium and captivated audiences in the process.
The stadium has been constructed and renovated in waves, with the most recent significant update 1990 when a new all-weather track was installed. Today, the stadium seats about 4,000 and remains a huge part of ACU history.
The stadium’s namesake, Elmer Gray, was the first in a long line of Wildcats with Olympic ties. Gray competed in the 1932 Olympic trials and paved the way for other standout Wildcats, like 1956 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Bobby Morrow.
Don Garrett has served as the voice of Elmer Gray Stadium for parts of several decades. In his time as PA announcer, Garrett said he has seen some special moments and some special athletes, including pole vaulter Billy Olson.
Olson was ranked as the No. 1 pole vaulter in the world in 1982 by Track and Field News; he set the world record for indoor pole vault and competed for the United States at the 1988 Olympics. He was quite adept at other events, as well. Garrett’s favorite Elmer Gray Stadium memory is of Olson at his peak.
“When Abilene Christian was competing in the LSC meet, Billy Olson was pole vaulting and easily getting up over 18 feet,” Garret said. “He put his pole down and ran to his next event, the 100-meter, and literally ran back to vault again. It was the top collegiate vault in the country that year.”
Garrett also places among his favorite moments in the stadium a shot put toss by the legendary Michael Carter. Carter had already set a world record for a high school shot put toss – more than 81 feet – while competing for Jefferson High School in Dallas. Later in the season, ACU hosted a warm-up meet for high school athletes who had already qualified for state, and Carter was one of the attendees. Garrett recalls a shot put toss that is etched in his memory.
“He was throwing from the old shot put pit, and they had a telephone pole that was out around 75 to 76 feet to keep the shot put from rolling away,” Garrett said. “I was actually working at the pit that day, and he threw a shot for 81 feet that went over the telephone pole and the heads of some people sitting on the pole. Needless to say they scattered pretty quick.”
Stories like those told by Garrett add to the allure of Elmer Gray Stadium. The stadium hosted the U.S. women’s Olympic trials in 1960, and the NCAA Division II championships in 1993 and 2005, yet with every passing year, the stadium’s rich history grows even richer.
ACU track and field has produced 20 world records, 35 Olympians and two Olympic gold medals. In 1999, Texas Monthly called the program “The Texas Sports Dynasty of the Century.” Elmer Gray Stadium has been the training ground for great athletes for decades.
Walk on the field at Elmer Gray, and you may very well feel the spirits of American track and field legends. Maybe you’ll hear the starting gun or see Billy Olson vault into the sky. Maybe you’ll see Bobby Morrow sprint by in a flash – or maybe like Mickey Mantle, you’ll just get goose bumps.