Another Ancient is gone

Marvin Westwestwords

There are two ways to say this.

Tennessee “Ancients” from track and field history are thinning out.


Obit writing is getting old.

Dr. Al Kuykendall of Oak Ridge and Boise, Idaho, died Jan. 8. In another era, he was an outstanding distance runner. He won the Southeastern Conference two-mile championship in 1953. He was on three SEC cross-country title teams.

Kuykendall, 86, was born in White Deer, Texas. His boyhood was on a farm that had been homesteaded by his grandfather in 1896. Al made note of the fact that his beginning coincided with the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

The Kuykendall family moved to Oak Ridge in 1943. The father was a teacher and got a good job with the Atomic Energy Commission or whatever it was called in total secrecy. Al ran for the famous Oak Ridge coach Ben Martin. Al received a track scholarship to UT. He ran well. He was captain of the cross-country team.

Kuykendall enlisted in the Air Force. He decided he wanted to be a doctor. He graduated from the University of Tennessee medical school in Memphis. He did his internship at the University of Chicago – and led his class.

Al and Oregon Health Sciences University chose each other for his residency in neurosurgery. On his way out west, he passed through Boise and simply felt it was where he wanted to live. There was only one other neurosurgeon in Idaho at that time, so Al was sure he would find work.

For 23 years, Al did neurosurgery. In spare time, he earned a degree in U.S. history from Oxford University in England. Don’t ask me why.

He stayed in touch with UT athletics. He and coach John Majors were friends. He identified several football prospects for the Vols.

Health issues cut his practice short, but he continued to do consultations and supported the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. In 1996, Al recognized early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and it developed over the remainder of his life.

Dr. Kuykendall and another SEC champ, Frank Albertson, were among the founders of the Ancients, track originals from before Chuck Rohe and Stan Huntsman.

This was a colorful fellowship of Volunteer runners, jumpers and throwers from the late 1940s and early 1950s. They have never had passwords, secret handshakes or quarterly dues but the bond was snug and oh, the tales they have told.

At every opportunity, the Ancients talked track but there was more to them than talk. They pooled dimes and dollars and encouraged others to help fund a $125,000 track scholarship in honor of one of their own, Alf Holmberg, 1949 Swedish import, a remarkable man, distance champion, said to be Tennessee’s first running all-American.

Alas, there aren’t as many Ancients as there used to be. Martin Korik, undefeated as a Tennessee pole-vaulter in four years of dual meets, died last June at Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. He was 88.

“There aren’t many of us remaining,” said Albertson. “Maybe seven or eight. Most of us think we are too old or too ill to go to Boise.”

Al’s wife, Berit, understands. She is planning a private ceremony for later.

(Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com).

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