Old Vol, co-star of The Ancients, dead at 89

Marvin Westwestwords

Another irreplaceable link to The Ancients has been lost.

Frankie Albertson, University of Tennessee loyalist, great storyteller, Southeastern Conference distance running champion from times long gone, died Sunday in Tampa. He was 89.

Frank Albertson

Some of Albertson’s stories are in my vault, under strong lock and key. Some are mere memories from fun phone calls and e-mails.

Frankie’s focus was Volunteer track teams of the late 1940s to the mid-1950s. He glamorized survivors by dubbing them The Ancients. The group had no passwords, secret handshakes or quarterly dues, but the bond was beautifully snug. And oh, the tales they could tell.

They were very proud of their reunions and T-shirts featuring Greek athletes. It meant a lot that, even as the years piled up, some could still jog or walk the old Cherokee Boulevard course.

Some of the names you may have heard. Alf Holmberg, imported from Sweden, was the star. He became an all-American. Twice he won SEC cross-country championships and SEC mile titles. Tom Scott, Albertson and Ed Murphey won SEC cross-country titles.

Tennessee won three team titles in this era. John Trent, Al Kuykendall, Charlie Waits, George Ogles, Norm Stone and Max Kirkland were among the low scorers.

Albertson enjoyed telling all who would listen that Tennessee had a track and field team before Chuck Rohe.

Frankie would also want you to know that The Ancients did more than run and jump and throw things – and swap stories. They pooled dimes and dollars and encouraged others to help fund a $125,000 track scholarship in honor of Holmberg.

Frankie was proud that The Ancients were not castoffs or roustabouts. The group included three doctors, two lawyers, two college professors, a U.S. ambassador, a state senator and a couple of pretty good football players, Hank Lauricella and Doug Atkins.

Martin Korik, after all these years, still holds the school record for vaulting – with a bamboo pole.

Albertson grew up on a small dairy farm near Atlanta. Neither of his parents went to high school. Frankie twice won state track titles and UT coach Carlton Crowell gave him “the chance of a lifetime,” a scholarship.

“I arrived at UT in 1949, one week into my 17th year. There were several World War II vets on the football team. They seemed like ‘old’ men to me. My roommates in East Stadium Hall, Holmberg and Korik, were four years older and influenced my life in many ways. I have been very fortunate!”

He was also very successful.

Albertson was on three relay teams that held school records. He won the SEC mile in 1951 and 1953. He was SEC 880 champ in 1952. He was team captain in 1953.

One of Frankie’s favorite stories was from ‘51. He and high-jumper Herb Neff qualified for the NCAA championships in Seattle. They sought the support of Robert R. Neyland, athletics director in his spare time from coaching.

The General said only $450 remained in the track budget. It was enough for one round trip or two one-way tickets. He left the decision of what to do up to the athletes.

“We left Knoxville with only the competition in mind and no thought of how we would get home.”

Neff placed sixth. Albertson ran ninth.

Frank, an experienced hitchhiker, thereafter proved very valuable. He led Neff down the left bank to Berkeley for the National AAU junior meet.

“We stayed for free in a fraternity house and ate mostly hamburgers and doughnuts.”

Herb got a tie for third in the high jump. Frank won the mile.

“Our 15 points gave us 10th place as a team.”

After that, they really hit the road. Neff, a 6-6 basketball player in real life, and Albertson, a 5-7

wisp, created a Mutt and Jeff appearance as they stood beside highways with thumbs up.

“We met many interesting people,” said Albertson.

A couple with a very young baby had a very old Studebaker stuffed with belongings.

“They rearranged some things so Herb could barely fit into the back seat.”

They drove all night and reached Salina, Kansas, at dawn, not far behind a tornado that had delivered major damage, killed several and injured many others.

“The mother in the car was a nurse. We stopped at the hospital so she and her husband could help. Herb and I were baby-sitters.”

With new space to stretch his legs, Neff took a long nap. Frankie got wet.

“I didn’t know anything about babies or diapers.”

Frank and Herb eventually made it home. They had money to spare.

“We divided the spoils, $3.40 each.”

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *