Famed Bob Boal Masters Meet dies at 46; once great in Southeast

Bob Boal was a pioneer.

In 1969, M55 miler Bob Boal traveled from North Carolina to San Diego, where he would meet his son returning from Vietnam. He took advantage of the trip to compete in the second U.S. masters nationals. It delighted him. “I came home sort of like a missionary,” he said, and soon launched his own masters meet — the first in his region. In 1971, the first Southeastern Masters Track and Field Championships drew 80 entrants to Raleigh, North Carolina. Later renamed after Bob Boal — who died in 2005 at age 93 — the meet became one of the biggest and best on the masters circuit. Len Olson’s “Masters Track and Field: A History” says: “Boal also fought to break down gender barriers. His [meet] led the way in accepting women in all events and age groups.” But after being canceled in 2016, it ran into more problems in 2017. Now it’s been officially declared dead. At least the USATF Southeastern Regional Masters Championships live on. (They once were held concurrently with the Boal meet.) I contacted Don Lein, president of the nonprofit that put on the meet, and Bill Murray, the USATF Southeastern Regional Masters coordinator. They shared details of the demise — mainly lack of a suitable host. “It is a shame to lose such a wonderful tradition like his meet,” Bill told me. “It is impossible to host a meet when you don’t have a competent venue available.”

Here’s what Don told me:

We recently held our Board of Directors meeting and decided to simply dissolve the corporation and go out of business. We are now discussing distribution of assets.

The major reason for the demise of the meet was the lack of a suitable venue. Our venue for many decades, NC State, redid their facilities and the new/consolidated facilities served many more sports than they previously did and therefore there was much more competition for the venue. Also several of the sports were sports where NC State might compete as a host to an NCAA tournament, which is frequently not known until several weeks before the event, whereas our meet needs to know 4-6 months before the event, because we need to line up officials, athletes need to arrange travel, etc. Unfortunately, an unworkable situation.

We had tried to accommodate our needs by splitting venues, but found that high school facilities for critical events such as jumps are frequently not safe enough for older adults and steeplechase facilities are not easy to find.

It has been a memorable 45-year run since Bob Boal brought back the idea from the West Coast. Bob Fine, our Regional manager, and good friend convinced me 20+ years ago to join him at the Annual Meetings.

Southeastern Masters has had a wonderful history serving athletes from Olympians to local Masters. It has been a labor of love for many of us and we hope the athletes and the management of the sport recognize the value of these groups of dedicated volunteers to the health of our sport.

Bill told me:

I participated twice [in the Boal meet] when it was at Duke University. One time it was days after the infamous “Duke lacrosse” accusations were leveled.

The end of Don’s meet, though well received and widely attended, is unfortunate; however, we will carry on. I’ve been told that it was the longest consecutive running masters meet in the southeast, over 40 years.

I would like to have been able to piggyback the USATF SE Region meet on Don’s SE Masters Meet because of its long established history of excellence and attendance. Their demise creates the opportunity for us to establish our own identity. Last year’s SE Region Championship Meet, in Virginia, was the largest attended masters meet in the southeast in over a decade, according to Craig Chasse, President of PVTC. A good start and one on which we hope to build.

The SE Region Masters Championship is May 20 at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville. The same venue as our national championship several years ago. The meet director is James Griffin, FL masters chair and we expect a huge attendance. Great location and facility.

Print Friendly

February 27, 2017

13 Responses

  1. Peter L. Taylor - February 27, 2017

    I will shed some tears for the demise of this meet. I even had a set time, 4 hours and 20 minutes, for driving from Fairfax, Virginia, where I live, to the hotel in Raleigh, NC, for the big event. I’m guessing I announced the meet about 18 times, perhaps 12 at NC State and 5 at Duke (I announced it at a smaller venue the other time).

    Don Lein and his wife Marion were always gracious hosts, and they did everything they could to make the athletes feel welcome. In its heyday I understand the meet was a 3-day affair and drew very big numbers. Too bad.

  2. Peter L. Taylor - February 27, 2017

    OK, it’s spelled Marian, not the unusual “Marion” that I had remembered. Regardless, she and Don did a wonderful job with the meet.

  3. Christa Bortignon - February 27, 2017

    It is with great sadness that I read about the demise of the meet. I participated in 2012 in the 42nd Annual Bob Boal Masters and Open Track and Field Meet. Not only was it a well run meet with great officials but they also gave out awards for various performances. I was lucky to win the Phil Raschker award. It was also one of the few meets where you could win some money.

  4. EM - February 28, 2017

    Sad. I wish it weren’t so.

  5. peter van aken - March 2, 2017

    Len Olson’s book is a good one!

  6. Art Healy - March 8, 2017

    Peter, thanks for your contributions to all of the great memories down in Raleigh. I lived very close to the NCSU track for 14 years, and my father spent many enjoyable weekends coming down from NJ to visit, run the meet and see his track friends before the Nationals or Worlds. That third venue you referenced was St. Augustine’s College, itself a famous powerhouse in D3 track history (in 1993 I believe when the NC State track was being resurfaced). Attended at least a dozen of these meets (all but one as a spectator) and remember watching many, if not most, of the active US Masters Hall of Famers, at least once. In the 90s it often resembled the US Nationals with the stands half full during big races in the afternoon. Earl Fee was a regular, often coming down with a Canadian group. For many years, the meet included a rare 10K road race which finished in the stadium. The weather was usually gorgeous during that first weekend of May before the brutal humidity settled in. Some of the most interesting conversations of my life in the stands at Kerr Track. No one ever had a bad word about this meet or how it was run. Sad news, but glad to see this post about the many great meets and memories from Raleigh (and Durham).

  7. Peter L. Taylor - March 8, 2017

    Art, thank you for your kind words. Yes, I do remember your father, Dudley Healy, and of course it was quite an honor when “The Great Earl Fee” would visit. One of my best memories was the time I announced him as “The Great Earl” throughout a 400, never said “Fee,” never said “Earl Fee,” just called him “The Great Earl” all the way through.

    I came into masters when I was in M30 (Philadelphia Masters), and in the early years no one ever mentioned going to nationals, whether indoors or outside. All they talked about was “going to Raleigh.”

    And thanks, Art, for the reminder about St. Augustine’s.

  8. Art Healy - March 8, 2017

    Thank you Peter. Remember your call of that 400 that day! Also remember your call of one of my father’s last ever outdoor track races..85+ age group- “Lehigh University, class of 1936.” Even though he rarely ran a 400M as a Master, I still have his Penn Relays watch as a member of Lehigh’s 4×400 team, back in the day.

  9. Peter L. Taylor - March 8, 2017

    You, and your father, have made me proud, Art. My father, by the way, went to Lafayette.


  10. Art Healy - March 8, 2017

    Great stuff Peter, and thank you for the kind words as well.

  11. Oscar Peyton - March 9, 2017

    This was my first outdoor meet when I joined USATF back in 2003. It was my favorite. I attended it 12 of my 14 years of USATF Masters competition. I miss it already.

  12. Mary Harada - March 15, 2017

    I will miss the Bob Boal Masters Meet. I made it a couple of times and enjoyed it very much.
    And Art Healy while I did not know your father well I always enjoyed seeing him and watching how well he handled the inevitable slowing down that comes with age. I think of that often as I am really slowing down but hope to continue for awhile longer if possible. I remember watching him at Reggie Lewis at a National Masters Indoor Championship when he picked up his knees and showed the crowd that he could still sprint towards the finish line. He was a fine athlete and gentleman.

  13. Art Healy - March 15, 2017

    Mary, thanks for your memories. I certainly will always remember the same things from Reggie Lewis in my dad’s later years. I know it was incredibly frustrating for him to slow down so much, but he was a real trooper- never complaining or expressing regret. I always remember your story of the XC race through the cow pasture in Barbados- he told the same story to me a few times as well:). The Raleigh and Boston indoor meets were two of his favorites, and it seems there are hundreds more who felt the same way. We were all able to meet and get to know the true giants of this sport in very casual, comfortable settings. The Bob Boal/SE Masters meet will never be duplicated.

Leave a Reply