News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

May 3, 2014

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Walter E. ‘Wally’ Marks created and stimulated legends

TERRE HAUTE — It was hard not to get excited at the groundbreaking of Indiana State University’s proposed $4.3 million track and field complex on North First Street.

Next Spring one or more ISU track meets will be conducted on the banks of the Wabash River instead of at Walter E. Marks Field on the east side of Third Street.

A modern facility for ISU’s exceptional track program under Coach John McNichols is overdue. Marks Field — once the site of world records — has been in a constant state of disrepair. In 1966, Jim Ryun of Kansas ordained a world record in the 880-yard run in 1:44.9 at the new track.

The initial phase, which includes construction of a nine-lane track, special areas for field events, a grassy infield, an entryway and restroom and storage facilities, will be funded by a substantial contribution from the Max and Jacqueline Gibson and their family.

The Gibson family was responsible for funding the nationally famous Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course east of Terre Haute.

The demise of Marks Field as an athletic facility is bittersweet. Walter Emil “Wally” Marks, for whom it is named, was the sort of person who created and stimulated legends.

Marks came to Indiana State Normal directly from the University of Chicago in July of 1927. A graduate of Chicago Lindbloom High School, he was an all-around college athlete under legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg when the university was the scourge of the Western Conference (then known as “The Big Nine” but now “The Big Ten”).

Marks was hired as a Health, Physical Education and Recreation instructor. He also agreed to serve as head football coach. Marks had earned fame in that sport at Chicago, starring in confrontations with the invincible Harold “Red” Grange at the University of Illinois in 1924 and 1925. He was captain of the football squad in the 1926 season.

Illinois had been named the Helms Foundation mythical national champion in Grange’s sophomore year in 1923 and was favored to beat the Maroons in 1924. Though Grange romped for 300 yards, the game ended in a 21-21 tie and Chicago, with a 4-0-3 league record in Marks’ sophomore year, won the conference title.

On Nov. 7, 1925, during Grange’s senior year, a crowd of 70,000 sat through a driving rain in Illinois’ new $2 million stadium to watch the Illini edge Stagg’s team, 13 to 7, though Marks and his teammates held Grange to less than 20 yards rushing.

While at the University of Chicago, Marks earned eight varsity letters in football (3), basketball (2) and as a pitcher and outfielder in baseball (3).

In the last week of July 1927, Wally signed to play pro baseball with the Terre Haute Tots of the Three-I League, then a Cleveland Indians farm club. His first starting assignment was Aug. 16 against the Decatur (Ill.) Commodores.

The game turned out to be a marathon 17-inning pitchers’ duel. Both starting pitchers were superb, pitching complete games. Marks allowed only 11 hits. Carl Hubbell, his opponent, gave up 12. The Tots won, 3 to 2. Marks was the winning pitcher.

Hubbell, the losing pitcher in that epic encounter, was elevated to the New York Giants in 1928 and won 253 games during his 16-year major league career. He is often remembered for striking out Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin consecutively in the 1934 All-Star game.

“King Carl” was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947.

One of Hubbell’s 1927 teammates was shortstop Paul Wolf, a Terre Haute native and Indiana State graduate, who spent eight years playing professional baseball. He was a solid hitter and an outstanding infielder. Most surely, he would have made it to the major leagues had he not suffered a severe leg injury while playing for Indianapolis in 1930.

Wolf was 0-for-6 against Marks but reached base on a walk and when hit by one of Marks” fast balls. He had the only two stolen bases of the game.

Marks was head football coach at Indiana State for 16 years between 1927 to 1948, taking leaves of absence to serve 44 months in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and to secure advanced degrees, including three doctorates, from Indiana University and the University of Chicago. He attained the military rank of major before discharge.

The Sycamores compiled a 4-2-1 record in Marks’ first season, which ended with a 27-12 victory over Northern Illinois. His 1933 football team finished 7-1, the second best record in school history. Only Coach Jerry Huntsman’s 9-1 team in 1968 bettered it.

His career football coaching record was 62-56-7.

Wolf and Marks became better acquainted during the 1927-28 school year. Marks, who earned two letters in the sport in college, added the job as head basketball coach to his resume. Wolf became the head freshman coach. Wally posted a 12-5 record in his first year and followed with 15-4,16-2 and 7-8 seasons.

Until 1979, the 16-2 record was the best record of any basketball team in ISU history.

Like Marks, Wolf was honored after a long career coaching baseball and basketball at Indiana State by having a field named after him.

Marks coached basketball for nine years (1927–1931; 1933-1938). He never had a losing season and compiled a 90-58 record. His 1936 team won two games in the U.S. Olympic Trials but was defeated by DePaul, 29-28.

Marks coached baseball at Indiana State for 17 years, winning Indiana Collegiate Conference titles in 1930, 1946, 1947 and 1949. Indiana State’s ICC championship baseball teams of 1957, 1958, 1964 and 1966 were coached by Wolf.

By the time Dr. Marks retired in 1971, he had risen from coach and instructor of physical education to Dean of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. That position carried with it duties normally assigned to a college athletic director.

As his administrative duties broadened and the time he had to devote to coaching declined, Marks spent more time officiating. He was a Big Ten Conference football official for 16 years, officiating the 1960 Rose Bowl, and Big Ten basketball official for eight years.

Marks, who was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and was in the inaugural class of the ISU Athletic Hall of Fame, died at age 87 on Nov. 24, 1992.

Though Marks Field may be destined to become a parking lot, it would be comforting to think that Wally’s 44-year institutional legacy will be perpetuated in some significant way.

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