March 22, 2011
The rich history of track & field at Colorado State University began 100 years ago with a coach who is known more for football than for the one sport he coached longer than any other. Harry W. Hughes arrived on the campus of Colorado Agricultural College, now known as Colorado State University, in September of 1911 to begin a 42-year career as director of athletics. In his first year, Hughes coached football, basketball, baseball and track. He spent three years as baseball coach, 14 years as basketball coach, 31 years as football coach and 41 years as head mentor of track and field.
Hughes was born in DeKalb County, Mo., in 1887 and moved to Norman, Okla., at the age of seven to a farm on the outskirts of the University of Oklahoma. The young Hughes watched and learned all forms of athletics at OU and when he enrolled became a superstar on both the football and track teams. By the time he graduated in 1908, Harry Hughes held seven school records in Track for the “Boomers” (most in the weights) and later returned to his alma mater to be an assistant coach in football, track and head coach of gymnastics.
In 1911, Hughes learned that the Colorado Aggies needed new leadership in athletics, so the 23-year-old married his high school sweetheart and moved to Fort Collins to begin his legendary career. After his first full season as coach, Hughes was instrumental in the construction of Colorado Field, the second athletic complex built on the CSU campus and first with natural grass. Hughes’ cinder track and top-notch club house were the envy of all colleges in the region as the fortunes of Aggie athletics changed for the better.
In 1918 and 1919 Hughes’s track teams won their first conference championships in the old Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. It was the second sport Hughes had led a team to a conference championship, the first being football in 1915 and 1916. Hughes’ strict training of athletes and rigorous rules kept his young agricultural college students in top condition to become excellent athletes.
Hughes then expanded Aggie athletics forming teams in wrestling, boxing, gymnastics and swimming along with the his efforts to build the South College Gym and Field House which opened in 1926. The new state of the art building featured expanded locker rooms, a full gymnasium, indoor track and large swimming pool to accommodate the ever-growing assortment of student-athletes.
His football teams won conference championships again in 1919, ‘20, ‘25, ‘27, ‘33 and ‘34 to help him earn the nickname “Dean of College Football Coaches.” However, Hughes continued to train excellent track athletes during the 1920s and into the 1930s with some of his finest track athletes during this era. The Aggies won RMAC track conference championships in 1928, ‘33 and ‘35, but it was the individual athletes that made so much of a difference in his teams.
In 1929, Dan Beattie won all-American honors in both discus and hammer becoming the first track athlete to be honored as all-American. In 1931, Ivan Dykeman not only was named the all-American in the hammer, he was crowned the national champion in that event to become the first CSU athlete to win an individual sport national championship.
Other all-Americans of Hughes’ coaching days were Forrest Harvey (two-miles 1933 & 1935), Chester Cruikshank (discus 1934 & 1935, hammer 1933, 34 and 1935.) and the legendary Thurman “Fum” McGraw was crowned the 1949 all-American in the discus. Hughes’ last season of coaching track in 1952 saw his last two all-Americans, Gordon Riddell in the pole vault and CSU Hall of Famer Alex Burl won his first of many all-American awards in the 100 meters.
Hughes was a coach who trained agricultural college men to become the best athletes they could be, but no athlete compared to Hughes’ greatest, Glenn Morris. Morris excelled in track and field between 1930 and 1934 and Harry Hughes took the young man from Simla, Colo., under his wing to help train him for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Hughes trained Morris night and day and befriended his athlete like a son. Morris wanted to compete for the decathlon and Hughes took him around the country to qualify for the Olympics. When Glenn Morris won the gold medal in Berlin, it was the pinnacle of Hughes’ coaching days on the Colorado Field Track. He even stood up for Morris in his wedding in December of 1936.
After Hughes resigned as football coach in 1942, he continued to coach the one sport that had so much meaning to him as a former track athlete. Hughes was a lifetime member of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and always supported the amateur sports over professional athletics.
By the end of the 1951-52 school year, Harry Hughes knew that it was time for him to retire in the summer of 1953. Hughes decided to hand the reigns over to Eugene “Doc” Taylor to coach the 1952-53 school year before his retirement from Colorado A&M after 42 years of service. Hughes’ 41 seasons as the school’s track coach is unprecedented and helped earn him a place in the Helms Amateur Hall of Fame, Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and a charter member of the Colorado State University Hall of Fame.
Harry Hughes died 26 days after his retirement on July 26, 1953 at the age of 65.