Flanagan Clan celebrates 50th season
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
WOODLAND — Bruce Flanagan has always been a track and field man.
Sure, he played the team sports at Raymond High School. But when your dad is the principal, well, some peers might think your place on the team was secured by something other than ability.
"In track and field, it's about what you do. It's measured by the clock or a tape," he explained. "So that really gave me a passion for track."
Five decades teaching girls in Southwest Washington how to race, jump and throw is the legacy of that passion.
In 1963 Bruce Flanagan was a young physical education teacher at the elementary school in Woodland when he formed the Flanagan Clan Girls Track Club.
"There was nothing for girls back in 1963," recalled Barb Boswell. "From out of nowhere, this track club rises up."
Flanagan Clan was the first girls track club to join the Oregon AAU, which included Southwest Washington.
Neither Bruce nor his wife Alyce was surprised when the club quickly became popular.
"There was nothing for girls, so they really jumped at the opportunity," Bruce said.
Alyce sewed the red Flanagan Clan logo onto the blouses that those girls wore to competitions in Seattle and Portland. Bruce melded a team from girls in his physical education classes and others who showed up to train at the simple four-lane Woodland High School track.
"That track was rock hard in the summer and you'd sink in when it was wet. It was only wide enough for three hurdle lanes," Flanagan remembered. "Even when we had one of the best track programs in the state, we had that crummy track."
Boswell -- Barby Brewster, back then -- was one of the first big successes. She still has the medal she won on June 8, 1963, at Grant High School in Portland -- the first of hundreds of state Junior Olympics medals that Flanagan Clan athletes have earned.
Boswell also has fond memories of the first high school state championships for girls, an invitational meet in 1969 where she won the discus throw and along with three Woodland teammates finished second in team points.
Flanagan, now 73, is certainly proud of the many victories girls have won while competing for the Clan. Tara Ward's 1998 national cross country championship for girls ages 11-12, and Laura Allen's 1969 national best in the triathlon for girls ages 10-11 are the two national titles.
But success for Flanagan Clan athletes has never been measured in medals.
"If you get PR (personal record), you're a winner, no matter what place you finish in that day," said Flanagan, who has used the challenges offered by track and field to teach skills that apply to life's hurdles.
The Flanagan Clan Girls Track Club was formed a decade before Title IX became law, ushering in new opportunities in sports for girls and women. Bruce Flanagan said he always had the enthusiastic support of the school board and the Woodland community.
Ironically, Flanagan said he remembers that after Title IX became law, he got occasional flak for restricting his program to only girls.
His response was simple: "I was thinking of girls athletics before the government was."
Being the P.E. teacher at the grade school -- a job he held for 30 years -- helped Flanagan establish and sustain the club.
"I knew who could do what (events), and I'd talk it up. When you get the 'in' girls, then everybody wants to be part of it," he said. "We used to just dominate the (President's) physical fitness test. We had a core group of girls, and the rest of the girls thought that was the norm and would just follow along and the whole level of fitness would be out of sight compared to the national norms."
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the year Flanagan formed his Clan. Because Kennedy championed physical fitness, Flanagan named the annual award given to the club's most outstanding athlete in memory of Kennedy.
The list of winners of the Kennedy Award is a who's who of female athletes from Southwest Washington, a testament to the reach Flanagan's Club has had from its modest Woodland perch.
The first Kennedy Award winner was Gina Miller of Kalama, a student in Alyce Flanagan's sixth-grade class that first year. Boswell won the award twice, the first of many Woodland students so honored. But Kennedy Award winners have also hailed from White Salmon and Cathlamet.
Staying same despite changes
Dwindling emphasis on physical education in school was the primary reason Bruce Flanagan retired after 30 years as the P.E. teacher at Woodland Primary School. His disappointment is clear when he talks about the days when every student would be in his gym class five days a week.
Those days are long gone, and Bruce Flanagan has been retired for 20 years (his son Glenn has been the school's P.E. teacher for many years).
But Bruce Flanagan still coaches hurdlers for Woodland High School.
And the Clan is going strong.
Over the weekend, Flanagan Clan athletes won five championships at the Junior Olympics meet for Western Washington. Many more qualified for the upcoming regional Junior Olympics.
When the Flanagan Clan was formed, 880 yards was the farthest the AAU allowed girls to run.
Bruce has guided his club through five decades of change, and three governing bodies for track and field. He has seen race distances chanced from yards to meters. Despite his protest, The Flanagan Clan was forced to shift its affiliation from Oregon to Western Washington for championship meets.
Because the "Clan Van" he used for transporting girls to cross country meets died in December, Bruce has decided to forego cross country this fall. But his finish line is nowhere in sight.
"Still kickin'," Bruce says with a smile. "Planning on keeping kickin'."