Prose With The Pro's: Loucks Meet Director Fred Singleton

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Fred Singleton sat in his basement last Monday afternoon, sorting through hundreds of t-shirts and packing them up to donate to the workers at White Plains Hospital and The Burke Rehabilitation Center.

The t-shirts were originally meant to be handed out at The Glenn D. Loucks Games, which were scheduled to take place at White Plains High School beginning on May 7. Singleton, who has been the Loucks Games meet director for 20 years, was forced to cancel what is largely considered one of the premier prep track and field meets in the country because of CoVid-19.

So, at a time when Singleton would normally be moving in a thousand different directions as he counted down the final 10 days to the meet, he was busy sorting through what might have been.

"Yesterday I packaged some other shirts and sent them to another group in Pennsylvania," said Singleton, 68, who also coaches track and cross country at White Plains High School. "They are workers who locked themselves in their manufacturing plant for 28 days as they produced materials for personal protection equipment [PPE]. All 44 of them agreed to say good-bye to their families for 28 days and work around the clock.

"We give anyone that wins a varsity event [at Loucks] a winner's purple t-shirt. These guys are winners, though, so I boxed up a bunch for them, too."

It's a small gesture of kindness and acknowledgement but it is one that keeps Singleton busy as he looks to occupy himself during what is usually his busiest time of the year. The former Mount Vernon High School and Penn State star has a long and storied history with the Loucks Games, having the distinction of running in them, coaching in them and serving as an administrator. His family is no stranger to sports. His brother, Ken, was an outfielder for the New York Mets.

Singleton ran in The Loucks Games, which were first contested in 1968, during the meet's first three years of existence. This year marks the first time the Games have been cancelled and it has left a void for Singleton who had been at the Games every year they have been in existence except for his four years in college.

He was able to devote more time to the event this year because it marked the first time he was not coaching during the outdoor season since 2013. Singleton has been coaching at White Plains for 44 years. He began coaching in 1977 and continued through 2006 when he took time off to care for his parents. He returned to coaching in 2014 [indoor and outdoor] and has also been the school's cross country coach since 2002.

Singleton is only the fourth director in the meet's storied history, taking over for Nick Panaro in 2001. He began assisting Panaro with the meet shortly after Panaro took over so when it came time for a new director to be named, Singleton was the logical choice.

"He saw I always had a big interest in everything that he was doing," Singleton said. "When it came time for him to step down, he felt like I was the natural person to take over. The first couple of years were transitional for me as the meet started to grow. It had originally been just a Saturday meet between 1968 and '74. In '75 they went to Friday and Saturday.

"In 2004, I suggested that the meet go to Thursday and do the DMR that day. That would bring coaches here on a Thursday. We slowly added other events and Thursday became a big day for us. This year we would have had the freshman long jump and shot put. We figured to have 15 freshman boys and girls in those two events. The committee was in favor and the coaches said yes."

The meet has certainly grown during Singleton's time as director. Some of it has been by his hand, like beginning the meet on Thursday, and some of it has been organic. He points to two specific occurrences that contributed mightily to the meet's metamorphosis. The first happened when The Arlington Relays and The Hartford Relays - two of the Loucks Games' biggest competitors - each folded, leaving White Plains as the early May destination if you wanted to participate in a major meet.

"Those were two big competitors," Singleton said. "All of a sudden, enrollment went from 2,000 to more than 3,000. The range of athletes we were getting had changed."

Technology also aided in the meet's growth. Electronic timing was a huge logistical upgrade in terms of running the meet while the internet allowed Singleton to research runners from all areas in the Northeast and beyond, providing him the opportunity to invite some of the best runners in the United States and eastern Canada.

"The computer has allowed me to go out and find athletes and so the letters I send out for each event have gotten more sophisticated," Singleton said. "MileSplit has been tremendous in helping with that. It allows me in July to go into the rankings and check to see who the returning athletes are. These are all kids I want to recruit for the meet and teams that have never been there.

"Most schools come one or two times and then they want to keep coming back. So MileSplit has been a Godsend in terms of adding to the quality of the meet."

Some things that haven't changed about the meet are the trophies that were designed by noted artist and New Rochelle native Lumen Martin Winter. He created more than 50 public art projects, including works at The United States Air Force Academy Chapel and The United Nations General Assembly Building. He came up with the design of the trophy, which hasn't changed since the inception of the games.

"The statue's key feature is the torch," Singleton said. "It was meant to serve as a symbol of hope and inspiration to humanity."

The other staple of the Loucks Games are a pair of torches that were used to light the Olympic flame at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. They are donated each year and are used to light the fire prior to The Loucks Games.

"The torches are pristine," Singleton said. "They come packaged. We unwrap them, use them to light the big cauldron and then hand them back. They are usually here for a half hour to an hour."

The flame will not burn this year, though, and for Singleton there was one special reason why he was looking forward to this year's event. The 1970 team on which he ran was going to be honored on the 50th anniversary of becoming the first New York team to win the meet.

"That was a personal disappointment for me, not getting to see my former teammates," Singleton said. "Our 90-year-old coach was also going to drive up from Florida."

(L-R) Steve Groom, Bill Collins, Fred Singleton, Al Owens, Dave Patterson

So Singleton will continue sorting through all those t-shirts in his basement, figuring to whom and how he will give them away. He's also in the process of creating a trivia board game. He taught American history at White Plains for 36 years and was also a contestant on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" a few years back.

"I'm a big trivia fan," he said.

This year has become an answer to one of those trivia questions - In what year were the Loucks Games cancelled. Singleton wishes that he didn't have an answer.

Loucks Games Q&A with Fred Singleton