CONNELLSVILLE, Pa. — The majestic tree at the curve of the high school track at Connellsville Stadium has a story. It’s one of only a few of its kind, and its roots go back 85 years to the Olympic Games, and one young man who ran for gold.
Connellsville resident Frank Jacobyansky’s dream now is to keep the oak tree alive for generations to come, and to make sure the story of the tree is never forgotten.
John Woodruff brought the sapling that grew into the beautiful tree, home with him from the 1936 Games.
Woodruff is a celebrity in the Connellsville area. There’s a new monument of him at the entrance to the high school stadium, and countless pictures of him in a local museum and cafe.
Woodruff competed in the 1936 Games, running in the 800 meters. During the race, he was trapped in the pack in fourth place.
“He knew if he would have moved out and fouled somebody, he was disqualified. So, he came to a dead stop. Let everyone around him,” said Woodruff’s friend Rick Grimaldi.
Late in the race, he dashed along the outside and sprinted into the lead.
It was the first time in 24 years a United States runner had won the gold in the 800-meters.
Pictures of Woodruff standing on the Olympic podium shows Woodruff holding a small tree. Each gold medalist was given an English oak sapling to take home with them.
“Many Americans coming back on the boat threw these plants into the Atlantic Ocean,” said Jacobyansky. “They did it for a variety of reason – it was too much to carry, or some of them were not happy with Hitler.”
“You have these African American athletes, many faced racism here in the United State, to go to Germany and as the story goes, Adolf Hitler didn’t shake the hands of Jesse Owens or John Woodruff,” said Black.
“It hurt him. I mean, he was hurt. But John was never bitter about it.” said Grimaldi. “He said that win meant a lot to me, not just that I won, but for my race and for my country.”
Grimaldi told Channel 11′s Jennifer Tomazic that Woodruff brought the tree back to Connellsville, so the city could share in his victory. Grimaldi and Jacobyansky looked into the 1936 Olympic trees and say at last count, the one in Connellsville is one of only 16 left in the world.
“This not only symbolizes John Woodruff. It is something that Connellsville can be proud of,” said Jacobyansky. “It maintained this as a remembrance, not only of this man, but certainly of the times and his achievements.”
After the Olympics, Woodruff ran for the University of Pittsburgh and didn’t lose a single race for two years. His streak came to an end when Pitt chose not to take Woodruff to a race at the Naval Academy because it didn’t allow African Americans. Years later, Pitt apologized to Woodruff.
“I think John would want to be remembered, not so much for his athletic ability. He was a great great person who always tried to make a change in somebody’s life,” Grimaldi said.
Connellsville holds a race in Woodruff’s honor every year. One year, the winners got saplings grown from Woodruff’s tree, keeping Woodruff’s tree and its legacy alive for generations to come.
©2021 Cox Media Group
Credit: Source link