Sunday, April 16, 2017

Flamin' Mamie's Bouffant Belles

On April 20, 1964 Sports Illustrated ran a cover story about the Texas Track Club of Abilene and their flamboyant coach. A few of the best bits from the Gilbert Rogin article:


Mrs. Ellison is a 46-year-old divorcée who wears her tinted strawberry-blonde hair in what she calls a "chignon rat."

"I'm trying to change the stereotyped image of the track girl."

"I became a nut about track when I was 13," says Mrs. Ellison.  "One night on the beach I raced the boy who finished fourth in the 100 in the all-city junior high school meet, and beat him. And so I lost another boy friend—he never spoke to me again."




In 1961 Mrs. Margaret Ellison founded the Texas Track Club around her older daughter, Pat . . . who had broken the 75-yard-dash record in the Junior Olympics.


Texas Track Club has done more to promote women's track in the U.S. than if its members had, say, won the national AAU championships.

The Texas Track Club is celebrated on two counts—its athletic achievements and the uncommon beauty of its girls, who compete in dazzling uniforms, elaborate makeup and majestic hairdos.
After the age of 10, American girls generally lose interest in running—it is unbecoming and too far out. And American boys generally lose interest in the . . . girls.




"We all go to the beauty shop before each meet, so we can get beautiful and get our minds off the meet. When we ran in Albuquerque this January, I could have killed myself. They have the worst beauty operators in the world in Albuquerque. After I came out of one shop, I went right into another one where this man made my hair worse. I had to go back to the motel and do it myself."


"A man can coach girls better than a woman, for the simple reason that girls will listen to a man, they have more confidence in him, and a woman likes to show off for a man. But most men are too busy to understand women. They just say, put on a white blouse and shorts and come out."

[Mrs. Ellison] was selected to coach the women's team in the dual meets with Russia, Poland, Germany and England. The trip also gave Mrs. Ellison an opportunity to buy a form-fitting German uniform, which she had copied for the Texas Track Club by the Fab-Knit Division of Holt's Sporting Goods in Waco

"I wish I could design the stuff for the U.S. Olympic team . . . Whoever picks them doesn't know enough about style today. The uniforms are baggy, like the boys'. And someone ought to design a dress for the banquets the girls have to  attend after every international meet."


"I think I've helped pioneer women's track in Texas, and given the girls and myself something better to do than drive around drinking Cokes."


Margaret "Flamin' Mamie" Ellison, who died in 1994 at the age of 76 was inducted into the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame. Last year, her daughter Jeanne Ellison Biggs, the featured sprinter on the Sports Illustrated cover, was interviewed for the local paper: 


Flamin' Mamie' wasn't just a reference to her red hair.  Being in the world with all men, she was one tough lady. She would go toe-to-toe with any man track coach there if she felt that we were being mistreated or something wasn't right. She had a persuasive way of getting her track club included in meets that were previously boys-only affairs.

Many of the girls on the Abilene Track Club couldn't afford the costs required to travel and compete. So Ellison would send her athletes out in the Abilene community in uniform raise funds. What they couldn't raise, Ellison would pay for herself. 

She just loved kids and liked doing things for girls who wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to travel and see places and run and make a name for themselves. 

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