Thursday, August 3, 2017

Track Star, Olympic Athlete, and Coach "Hec" Edmundson [otd 8/3]

Coach, University of Idaho track star, and Olympian Clarence “Hec” Edmundson was born August 3, 1886 in Moscow, Idaho. In 1901, Clarence enrolled in the UI prep school and soon established himself as an outstanding distance runner.
Edmundson wins! University of Idaho archives.

Hec – “Aw Heck!” being his preferred expletive – basically put UI track & field athletics on the map. At most meets, he ran the quarter mile, the half, the mile, and anchored the mile relay. In 1905, Hec led a three-man “team” to the Lewis and Clark Exposition Games, in Portland, Oregon. Amazingly, the tiny squad placed second in the event, with Hec winning two firsts.

In 1908, Edmundson won one event and placed second in another at the Olympic qualifying trials held at Stanford University. He was not, however, among the 76 athletes selected for the American team that went to the 1908 Olympic Games in London (The Oregonian, Portland, June 9, 1908). Later that year, he organized the first cross country squad for the University of Idaho.

Edmundson was selected for a spot on the team for the 1912 Olympics, held in Stockholm. Hec reached the semi-finals of the 400-meter race, and the finals of the 800-meter. Edmundson was the first Idaho native to compete in the Olympic Games.

After his Olympic experiences, Hec turned to coaching, starting as track coach at the University of Idaho in 1913. After awhile, he also coached the basketball team. Edmondson’s hoopsters specialized in ferocious defense, which led some sports writers to gush that they “vandalized” their opponents. According to tradition, a writer for the student newspaper dubbed the powerful 1917 squad the “vandals” in a season-opening article. Four years later, “Vandals” became the official name for University of Idaho athletic teams.

Coach Edmundson. Seattle Times photo.
In 1919, Hec joined the University of Washington staff, where he started as head trainer as well as the track & field coach. The school’s athletes showed his impact almost immediately. One of his trainees, Augustus “Gus” Pope, won a Bronze Medal for the discus throw in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. (The following year Pope won both the discus and the shot put in the NCAA championships.) In all, seven of his athletes competed in the Olympic Games, and three of them won medals.

Besides a half dozen other individual NCAA track & field champions, Hec coached world record holders in several events. His teams won three Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) titles, twice finished second in the NCAA championships, and three other times finished in the top five.

Two years after he started at UW, Edmundson began coaching basketball there. Washington Husky tradition credits Hec with the invention of “fast break” basketball. Other claims for that honor exist. Most likely, many coaches of that era got frustrated with slow, set-piece basketball, and several … including Hec … invented ways to pick up the pace.

Hec’s squads won the PCC Northern Division ten times, and the conference title three times. He coached more wins (488) and compiled the highest career winning percentage (71.5) of any UW basketball coach. Edmundson passed away in August 1964.

Hec belongs to both the Husky and the Vandal Halls of Fame. The indoor sports venue at the University of Washington is called the “Hec Edmundson Pavilion” – generally referred to as the “Hec Ed” – in his honor.
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Jim Dave, W. Thomas Porter, “Hec Edmundson,” The Glory of Washington: The People and Events that Shaped the Husky Athletic Tradition, Sports Publishing, Inc. (2001).
Rafe Gibbs, Beacon for Mountain and Plain: Story of the University of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (© The Regents of the University of Idaho, 1962).
“Hall of Famers Arrive on Campus: Clarence ‘Hec’ Edmundson,” University of Idaho news release, Moscow (Sept 6, 2007).

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