Editor’s note: The 23rd Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame & Reunion Dinner takes place Monday at Glen Sanders Mansion. Inductees are Ed Alger, Al Burnham and Joe Zelezniak, while the undefeated 1969-70 Linton boys’ basketball team earned the legacy tribute. Today’s story is the fourth in a four-part series recognizing this year’s induction class.
The Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame will induct track star Ed Alger, who was a high school runner that could set the pace for others to match, along with having the ability to bring a race to a standstill.
Alger won area cross country and track titles for Mont Pleasant High School from 1949 to 1952 under hall of fame coach Ray Vacca.
Alger captured the 1952 New York state title in the mile and won the Section II title in the mile in 1951 and 1952. In 1950 he finished third.
In the fall season, Alger won two Section II cross country titles, setting a course record in 1950 and was recruited by more than 50 colleges before selecting Syracuse University.
“I did not like to run from behind,” the 88-year-old Alger said during a phone interview from his home in Tennessee. “I took a lead in about every race I ran, and I could run a 10-flat 100 [yard dash]. I just didn’t like to be behind somebody.”
Alger captured the 1950 Watertown Interscholastic Invitational cross-country event, setting a course record, the 1950 Poughkeepsie Road Race, the 1951 Fordham Run along with the 1951 Utica-Proctor Invitational Cross-Country meet, putting all eyes won him.
At the PAL meet at Union College, Alger was given a change to his race plan.
“My coach said to me, ‘I don’t want you to take the lead, I want you to stay back,’” Alger said. “It was the only time he said that to me. I did not like that, but I did it.”
The racing plan for Alger created a quandary at the starting line.
“When the gun went off, I stood there and the other runners stood there and looked at me,” Alger said. “Then one runner from Rye took off.”
The race was on.
“I came off the last turn and I tried to pass him and just kept elbowing me and going out wide on the turn,” Alger recalled. “When we hit the finish line I was on his shoulder, but I was off the track on the outside.”
Alger’s college career slowed down — not from injury, nor disinterest in the sport, but rather lack of opportunities at Syracuse.
“We had a hurdler that went there, and he came back and said how great it was, so I decided to go there,” Alger said. “What I did not know was that they had one of the top cross-country teams in the country, but they didn’t have a track team back then. When I got to college they had a sprinter, a hurdler, and a javelin thrower in addition to all the distance runners, but none of them ever competed in a [track] meet.”
Despite not having the chance to shine as a short-distance runner, including his top event, the mile, Alger made his contributions during the cross-country season.
He finished 46th at the 1953 NCAA cross-country championships at Michigan State for third-place Syracuse. In 1954 he returned to the NCAA championships, finishing 41st.
Alger returned home to Schenectady to encourage younger runners like 1955 Mont Pleasant graduate Louis Pepicelli.
“He would come and give us some encouragement, gave us a lot of pointers,” Pepicelli said. “He was somebody we looked up to because we heard so much about him. I wasn’t his running teammate, but he was a legend.”
Pepicelli remembered those conversations.
“He would always give us encouragement and tell us, ‘You can do this. too,’” Pepicelli said. “You can go to [college] keep your mind on your running, concentrate and listen to your coach. He really gave us something to look up to.”
Alger was nominated by long-time Capital Region track and cross country coach Jan Zadoorian, a 1956 Mont Pleasant graduate.
Zadoorian was an assistant coach for eight years before being named head coach at Mont Pleasant from 1962 to 1977. He then returned to coaching at Columbia High School, retiring in 2004.
As one of the Capital Region’s foremost historians of track and field through the decades, Zadoorian made it a point of nominating Alger.
“I focused on track and field, there seemed to be a lack of that athlete in there,” Zadoorian said. “The track athlete that might have been a football player got in.”
Zadoorian has a simple, high standard — a state championship.
“How many schools have state champions? That’s the best you can be in high school,” Zadoorian said. “He was a state champion in track and field, he was one of the guys that should be noticed.”
Alger served 10 years in the United States Marine Corps, both active and in the reserves, and had a spectacular career in advertising in newspaper, radio and television in the Capital Region and the South.
“I’m probably still the number-one newspaper advertising exec that ever came out of Schenectady,” Alger said.
There aren’t any definitive records to back up that statement, but Alger’s timed feats from Mont Pleasant will be recognized during his induction into the 23rd annual Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame event Monday at Glen Sanders Mansion.
More from The Daily Gazette: