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The Original Risk-Taker

June 25, 2011

Tim Singleton Photo Gallery Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame Photo Gallery

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Tim Singleton and unique go together so well that on Saturday night it should have surprised no one as he joined fellow Georgia Tech graduate Mark Price and Jesse Tuggle as the latest greatests inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame. Singleton was no slouch as an athlete at Druid Hills High nor at Tech.

Yet he was not singular, nothing like Price was as a college and NBA basketball player, nor like Tuggle as a former Griffin High linebacker who was undrafted out of Valdosta State before an NFL career that included five Pro Bowls.

Frankly, diversity is where Singleton’s tale ought to begin.

So there he was, being recruited as a running back in the mid- and late-1950s, years before dreaming up and then founding Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race . . .

“I had been offered football scholarships, track scholarships and some combinations, but as soon as I knew Tech was offering a [football] scholarship, that was it,” Singleton said. “Coach [Bobby] and a young assistant named [Frank] Broyles came to my house in December.

“They said, `As long as it takes you to graduate, you’ve got a scholarship.’ I said I also wanted to run track, and they said fine but you should do spring football your freshman year and after that run track. After freshman year, they kept their end of the bargain. I was on a football scholarship, but track was my best sport.”

Dr. Tim Singleton cannot be defined so simply by a best this or a best that.

Soon after graduating from Tech, he was on the very first faculty at Lovett, where he taught economics and coached cross country while earning a Master’s degree at Tech. Next stop: West Georgia for a year, then back to Atlanta as Georgia State’s Dean of Men and cross country coach.

Here, we fish-tail into the business of the Peachtree Road Race.

Although friends refer to Singleton’s “entrepreneurial spirit,” there wasn’t much business to it in 1970 when Singleton plopped a cigar box on the hood of his Volkswagen microbus and had each of 110 runners drop in a $2 entry fee.

Then again, Singleton, who earned a PhD in his 10 years at Georgia State, was crafty enough to find a sponsor – Carling Brewery, because, well, who doesn’t like beer after they run?

Definitely, the Dean of Men didn’t imagine birthing a cultural phenomenon by sending runners panting down Atlanta’s most famous boulevard on July 4th. Who knew the race would grow into the largest in the world (60,000 expected next week)?

Not Singleton.

The coach was chiefly trying to create an outlet for his cross country athletes and have some fun along the way.

“The original idea for the Peachtree came because I used to take some of my Georgia State runners down to Ft. Benning for the Congressional Medal of Honor race . . . at the height of Vietnam,” he said. “They didn’t have age groups, and there were awards for just the first three finishers.

“My own runner, Bruce LaBudde won it . . . and in 1969, we were on the way back in my station wagon and we had to fold the back seat down to fit the trophy. I said, `For what that trophy cost we could have 50 awards. We could do a better job with a race.” So the man got cracking.

He had thoughts of a race up and down Stone Mountain, of finishing a race in Bobby Dodd Stadium or the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Ultimately, Singleton began mapping out – and measuring – a 10K course down Peachtree.

Skepticism abounded. As he recalled, “Some of my friends said, `Tim you’re crazy; nobody’s going to want to run down Peachtree on the 4th of July.’ People keep claiming the first race was six miles, but I promise you it was 10K.

“None of them have gotten out and measured it, and I measured it twice. They need to get their butts out there and measure it themselves. That kind of ticks me off.” Anger does not become Singleton, who is retired and living in Dahlonega after 47 years as an educator, including stops after Georgia State at the University of Houston (Texas) at Clear Lake and North Georgia.

The laughter in his Dahlonega home Saturday morning, when some 80 or 90 family, friends, and former colleagues began gathering in advance of HOF his induction, confirmed that.

A three-time Fulbright scholar, Singleton seems to have a hard time even feigning anger. He is better at making clear his disdain for another topic – the source of his college scholarship.

Singleton eagerly says that he’s thankful for his Tech undergrad and graduate degrees, and he said that he had a grand time at the 2009 ACC Championship Game in Tampa (where one of his sons lives).

That, however, was one of very few games he’s seen in person in recent years.

“I’m a little down on college football; I think it embodies too many of the negatives we see in society. I’m tired of seeing kids who get $15 a month in laundry money coached by coaches making $3 million,” he said. “I’m a peasant.” Not so fast, Doc.

Defining Dr. Tim Singleton is not so easily done whether by oneself or others.

He remains highly thought of, as former colleagues traveling from Texas, Vancouver, and other far-flung places attest.

Some Tech teammates were to attend.

He mentioned 1958-’59 football captain Foster Watkins, who also forged a long and distinguished career in education, and former track teammate Bill Ransom, a frequent Peachtree participant over the decades.

There was no knowing on July 4th, 1970, what was coming.

“You never know when something that seems small and insignificant is going to turn out to be big,” he said. “I know that Jesse Tuggle and Mark Price, these guys are great athletes, but I’m certainly not being inducted for my athletic prowess but rather for the Peachtree Road Race.

“We’ve now made the Peachtree Road Race a member of the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame. I was kind of the original risk-taker who came up with the idea, I was there the first five years, and it went onto bigger and better things. I accept [induction] on behalf of a lot of people.”

Thoughts to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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