Jim Zeitler is just back from the Florida Keys.

It was a wonderful vacation, a great opportunity to get all his batteries recharged.

But now it's time to get back to business, the business he totally loves, the business of coaching track and field, the business of guiding the fortunes of youngsters in the path of success in the sport he's totally embraced, the sport that represents the very essence of him.

At 67, Coach Jim Zeitler is not about to call it a career. No way, no how.

The indoor season's just around a few more corners. You know he'll be there, everywhere there's action, everywhere "the kids" are "going for it," pounding out their laps, checking their "splits," chasing personal bests and team goals, and in the process evolving into theyoung adults ready to take on an array of challenges, on the tracks of the world and certainly off them.

Generations of track athletes, on his Long Island, New York, home turf, and far beyond, should say their "thank yous" to Jim Zeitler.

Young ladies, perhaps, even more than young gentlemen.

He's coached them all, of course, in his four-decade-plus career at Long Island high schools.

But it's the young ladies who owe him special debts of gratitude.

He paved the way to their full participation in the sport. He opened doors that had been slammed tightly shut. He did what was only right - and became a pioneer.

But to backtrack:

In his own running days at St. Mary's High School in Manhasset, Jim Zeitler was an excellent 440/880 man, but it was the relays that always put him front and center.

He'll never forget the Rhode Island meet where, on his 880 leg, he beat out a heralded competitor from Archbishop Molloy High in Queens.

That Molloy runner was Tom Farrell, who went on to St. John's University and two trips to the Olympic Games as one of his Uncle Sam's finest running nephews. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Farrell reached the 800 final and placed fifth. At the 1968 Games in Mexico City, Farrell ran off with the bronze medal, trailing only Ralph Doubell of Australia and Wilson Chuma of Kenya.

"I liked all the relays," reminisces Zeitler. "They always brought out my best.

"Beating out Tommy Farrell that day, that became my big claim to fame."

St. Mary's High (where he posted bests of 50.2 for one lap and 1:58.7 for two) became his

springboard to Iona College, and again he was at his best every time he was handed a relay baton.

The Iona two-mile relay team of Bob Budwick, Richie Dugan, Mike Glynn and

Zeitler reached memorable heights the winter of 1964.

With indoor track interest at its peak, and a five-Saturday season of big-time action at Madison Square Garden filling the 8th Avenue arena regularly, these four teamed to run a 7:32.8 for a

sizzling victory at the '64 NYAC meet, time that held up as number two in the world that winter.

The Budwick-Dugan-Glynn-Zeitler quartet (the first three were sophomores and Zeitler a junior) went on to add another second place in the National AAU Championships, then headed outdoors to claim a fifth in the Penn Relays' Championship of America race in '64.

In 1986, the four were honored as a group with their induction into the Iona College Hall of Fame.

Zeitler's own achievements as a runner continued his family's tradition. His Dad, Joe Zeitler, had been a brilliant runner at Manhattan College, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, with such notables as Howie Borck, Andy Neidnig, Bob Conkling and George Sheehan among his teammates.

Harborfields High became the scene of his first involvement in the gender equity process.

"A father came to me with his daughter, Anita, and asked if she could run with the boys team," Zeitler remembers.

(This wasn't any father - it was Aldo Scandurra, a noted marathon man and ultra-marathon runner of the day for the national-champion Millrose AA team, a man who later served as president of the Road Runners Club of America, and was voted into the U.S. Distance Running Hall of Fame.)

"Anyway, I told Mr. Scandurra, 'that's fine with me, and that's how it started."

Anita Scandurra would emerge as one of the finest girl distance runners in the nation,

in a day and age when girls got little opportunity in high school track, meeting roadblock after roadblock on the way to acceptance.

"Well, we filed all the paperwork to get Anita eligible, with the State Education Department, and I thought we'd have no problems," said Zeitler. "It turned out I was very wrong.

"I remember Anita's first meet for us, the Nassau County Coaches Meet at the old airplane hangar building they had at Nassau Community College.

"Of course, all the boys in the meet went a little nuts, but they also loved it. Anita ran great, too, on our relay. bringing the stick home in fifth or sixth, if I remember it right."

January 16, 1971, became a most memorable day in the life of Anita Scandurra and Coach Jim Zeitler.

Scene was the St. Francis Prep Meet at the 168th Street Armory in Washington Heights, Manhattan (run on the 220-yard flat, splintery board track that was the then-hub of Metropolitan area indoor scholastic action.)

"Anita checked in for the 1,000 yards, still wearing her sweat suit," said Zeitler. "And that's when things started happening."

"Bill Gaffney, the chief clerk, came over, and said 'we have to stop the meet.'

"Then they huddled with Brother Xavier Sztapnik of St. Francis, the meet director for the CHSAA, and Lewis DelSarte, of the PSAL.

"At first, they said they'd had no problem with the entry, thinking that Anita might be an Hispanic name for a boy, like some others.

"I was told the CHSAA only had unwritten rules about girls not competing, while the PSAL had rules expressly prohibiting girls from competing.

"Naturally," said Zeitler, "I told them what I thought of all that. I was never anyone to put plaster over my mouth."

Well, barred from the meet, Anita Scandurra soon made the headlines.

In the epic words of famed New York Times sports writer Bill Miller, "the women's Liberation movement tried to invade the sanctum of New York City schoolboy track yesterday, but was rebuffed at the gate."

"Anita Scandurra, a wispy 15-year-old blonde sophomore from Harborfields High, was barred from the meet…."

Anita Scandurra went on to recognition as one of the finest girls middle distance runners in America, and then to Seattle Pacific University, where she continued to excel. Following in her dad's celebrated longer-distance footsteps, she won the 1976 Seattle Marathon in 3:00:18.

(These days, Anita Scandurra, Ph.D., does some pioneering work of her own - in the areas of integrated wellness, health promotion and exercise science, based at St. Joseph Hospital in Marshfield, Wisconsin. She earned her doctorate at Ohio State University in 1987; her work now emphasizes development of the "whole" person through a blend of traditional and holistic approaches to health.)

Step by step, often met with resistance by the powers-that-be in scholastic sports, the boys-only world of scholastic athletics would change, irrevocably. Of course, it took a series of court decisions, but justice was finally done.

Equal opportunity advances were seen not just in New York, but all over the nation. In next-door-neighbor New Jersey, coaches such as Jack Rafter at Red Bank Catholic High School, Barry Rizzo at Matawan Regional (a noted football coach who had just as much enthusiasm for coaching the girls as he did for his male footballers) and Manasquan High's George Bower (who coached Barbara Friedrich, the only girl member of his boys team, to the women's American record in the javelin throw) led the way. Dedicated mentors like these soon emerged throughout the land.

Well, Jim Zeitler would stay at Harborfields for nearly three decades - coaching both boys and girls - piloting a steady run of success along the way. He also had a stint at Farmingdale University, then at Hauppauge High School, and is now an assistant coach at Sayville High School.

At every juncture, he led his pupils to major achievements. Individual, team and relay titles, trophies and records piled up.

Kristy Longman, a four-time cross-country all-stater at Sayville, is now at the University of North Carolina. A top current star at Sayville is Kim Grabow.

"I've maintained contact with a lot of my graduates over the years," he says with pride. "A lot of them have gone on to great things."

Typical Zeitler modesty: "I guess I've had a fair amount of success."

The Zeitler Relays, held annually at Suffolk County College, is one more tribute to his career success story.

A man who never stopped cheering Jim Zeitler's achievements is Paul Limmer, himself one of the veteran notables of the Long Island track and field scene, as the Mepham High School of Bellmore coach for 35 years, director of the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Cross Country Regionals, and a member of the National Scholastic Sports Foundation's board of directors.

Limmer, too, has had a long run of individual and team success - his leading pupil was Chris Curtin, a Footlocker National XC champion who went on to excel for Stanford.

As Limmer puts it:

"No one else stepped forward the way Jim Zeitler did.

"No one came to the plate the way he did.

"He was really far, far ahead of the curve.

"Jim Zeitler, absolutely, was a pioneer. He should be knighted for what he did."


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