Bernard Sanders – Bet you didn’t know he was a high school XC / Track Star !

Aug 17


(Madison High School newspaper/Courtesy of Lou Howort)

Judges at the high school cross-country competition in the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park had a problem.

Joe and Clarence Scott, the 16-year-old twin seniors from Brooklyn Automotive High School, crossed the finish line of the two-and-a-half mile race that drizzly, cold November day in first place — simultaneously. Holding hands. The pair were among the top runners in their age group in the city in 1958, often winning or finishing near the top of the standings in distance events.

But the Scotts’ unusual finish was a violation of the rules, since it implied that they’d colluded on the ending.

Distance running, even at that level, was a big deal. This was only a few years after Roger Bannister became the first to beat the four-minute mile, and running had captured the nation’s attention. The New York Times ran front-page articles about professional runners shaving a few seconds off one another’s time. In this case, the judges — not wanting to reject the results (the pair had won by a wide margin) — declared Joe the winner and Clarence second, with identical times. The whole situation was interesting enough to itself warrant an item in the Times, titled, “Identical Twins Finish Together But School Judges Pick Winner.”

But to an observer 58 years later, in 2016, that’s not what’s interesting about that race. What’s interesting is the guy who came in 18th place, about a minute behind — the guy who a week-and-a-half earlier had placed third behind the Scott brothers in the borough championship.

A guy from Brooklyn named Bernard Sanders. In 2014 most of us had never heard of the man, but now Bernie Sanders is one of the most notable political figures of our lifetime.

He started running his freshman year, under team captain Richard Creditor. In 10th grade, Sanders was a “standout,” per the yearbook, finishing first in the Flatbush championships (the local area competition within Brooklyn). The next year, when he was named co-captain, he finished first in Flatbush and took third in the NY City in the indoor one-mile.

The team was successful, too, coming in sixth place in the city during his senior year and second in the borough and earning the yearbook praise of being “one of the best teams in Madison’s history.” 

“I remember Bernie being tall. Good athlete. Fairly big guy. Good runner,” Creditor told me when we spoke by phone this week. The two both ran distance, with Creditor graduating when Sanders was a sophomore. 

Since Creditor and Sanders ran the same events, they trained together. “We didn’t have a lot of good training facilities,” Creditor said, though he noted it was a good school. They ran around the school’s indoor gym and around Madison’s 220-yard coal-cinder track outdoors.

(Madison High School newspaper/Courtesy of Lou Howort)

After Creditor went to college, Sanders became co-captain of the team. He began training with new partners who also ran distance, Lou Howort and Danny Jalinsky. With another runner, they ran the distance medley, a relay in which a team of four runners cover a quarter-mile, a half-mile, three-quarters of a mile and a full mile, in series.

“Bernie was a very well-known runner from his freshman year,” Howort said about Sanders when we spoke this week. Sanders was “probably the top runner in the city for ninth graders,” he said. “He was an elite runner at that point.”

The athletes would cluster at the beginning of a wide field, near Broadway, and then run a few football-field-lengths into a hilly woods. Once they came out of the woods, they ran across a bridge and back into the flat field for the finish.


(New York Times, Oct. 31, 1958)

At 14:16 for 2.5 miles, he ran rather fast by both today’s and 1950’s standards. He would still easily place top 30 or 40 in modern, competitive invitational high school meets.

Steve Slavin, who ran track with Sanders, shared a story which he thought accurately represented the character of Bernie Sanders.

Back in the day, when two runners of the same school had a comfortable lead in a competition, they would join hands and almost always cross the finish line together. But Sanders broke with tradition.

“Bernie had already won a few races, and Dan Jelinsky had never won a race in his life,” Slavin explained. “So the two of them were finishing together, and Bernie just pushed him ahead and let him finish first.”

He had a personal best of 4:37 in the mile run. One thing that we should however make note of is that, back in the day, they raced on old cinder tracks with track spikes. So for a race that length, a 4:37 would have been more like a 4:30 on a modern track.

People also knew about Madison HS for their distance medley. Howort, Sanders and Jalinsky would train for that four days a week by running “quarter-mile repeats,” running a quarter mile, jogging for 220 yards and then running another quarter-mile, over and over. They’d switch off who ran the lead and who got to run behind, drafting off of the leader, and they got to know each other well. 

The track and field team during Bernie Sanders’s senior year at Madison, in 1959, was so successful that the graduating class of 1960 bragged about it, making repeated mention of Sanders in its yearbook despite his having already graduated.

Bernie Sanders , high school cross country and track star from New York City, U.S. Senator from Vermont, and former candidate for President of the United States.



  • Credits: Information taken from the following sources:  Washington Post, Waves, and Fuel Running
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