New Orleans Athletic Club’s 111th Annual Turkey Day Race
Benefiting Spina Bifida of Greater New Orleans
Produced by the New Orleans Track Club
Tad Gormley Stadium
November 22, 2018
If you’d like an opportunity to be a part of history, promote your business, AND aid in a worthy cause, please consider sponsoring the Turkey Day Race, where proceeds go to Spina Bifida Association of Greater New Orleans
|Will you be part of history on Thanksgiving morning?
The New Orleans Athletic Club’s “Turkey Day Race” is one of the oldest and continuously held non-marathon races in the United States. In 1986, the race became a charitable event assisting the needs of our local community and has been instrumental in helping the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New Orleans.
The race was established in 1907 by Francis Thomas “Tad” Gormley, the Athletic Director of the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club (YMGC), which was renamed the New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC) in 1929. Mr. Gormley subsequently coached track at Louisiana State University and served on the athletic staff of Loyola University. In 1932, Mr. Gormley served as assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic Track Team and in 1938 he was hired as the Athletic Director at City Park.
The Turkey Day Race is steeped in running history and tradition. In 1907, Tad Gormley came to New Orleans from Boston and started the Turkey Day Race and the Jackson Day Race. The first runner across the finish line in 1907 was Leo Fincke of the YMCA with a time of 31:20, and Jimmy Grant representing the YMGC was the Time Prize Winner at 28:05. Historically, until the 1980’s, the runners were “handicapped” based on their time. Often the first runner to cross the finish line was not the runner with the best time. Races were designed so most of the runners finished about the same time, so slower runners were given a head start or handicap. From 1907 through 1966 the 5-mile race was held on North Rampart and Canal Streets, except when it was suspended in 1918 because of World War I and was revived by the Athletic Director in 1928, Irwin Poche. With the exception the World War II period of 1943-45, the race has been held every Thanksgiving morning.
With the dedication of City Park Stadium in 1937, track and field events grew over the decades. The NOAC Punch magazine describes the 1947 race as “the opening event for the 1947-48 Cross Country Season” with participants from local high schools including Jesuit and Holy Cross; area universities including L.S.U. and Tulane; and military teams from as far away as the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The Punch described the 1957 race on November 28th “as the biggest cross-country race of the Southern AAU district.” A 1963 Punch story identified the first attempt to expand the race beyond the serious 150 AAU runners by creating a half-mile event for “business executives.” During the 1960’s the race increased in its popularity with runners from the southern U.S. competing in what had developed to be a major event with team awards for universities and high schools.
After the death of Tad Gormley in 1965, the stadium in City Park was renamed in his honor. In 1967 a 5-mile racecourse was established in and around City Park with the finish line in Tad Gormley Stadium, the location of the 1992 Olympic Track and Field Trials. In 1967 the winner of the first race in Tad Gormley Stadium was Jonathan Boydston with a time of 24:44 from the University of Chicago Track Club.
Runners from across the country traveled to New Orleans each Thanksgiving to compete in the Turkey Day Race but history was made in 1969 when the first woman competed in the race. Barbara Gorrondona in 1969 was the first female to compete against 102 men and made race history. That same year the time prize went to the NOAC’s Larry Fuselier with a winning time of 29:10.
In 1970, inspired by Barbara Gorrondona, four women entered the race and competed against 108 male runners. Another historic event occurred when the first to cross the finish line was a 16 year-old female, Alicia Sabi an Ursuline Academy sophomore who with a 12-minute handicap ran the race in 31:52. Phil Camp from the Pensacola Naval Station was the time prize winner at 24:14.
As the world changed so did the race. In the late 1970’s running became a popular form of exercise and a social event. The size of the Turkey Day Race grew from 150 to 1,000 participants by the mid 1980’s. With that growth, the focus of the race changed to include the elite runners and the now large general running community. Awards now covered age groups and special events, including the first wheelchair division in 1986 introduced by the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New Orleans.
By 1986 the race became a large event that required year long planning and development, which required more resources. Based on the NOAC historic support of charities since 1872 and desire to develop the historic race, the NOAC created another historic event by making the Turkey Day Race a “charitable event”, to help children and their families in need with all profits donated to the charities actively involved in supporting and developing this Thanksgiving tradition since 1907.
The Turkey Day Race has established a rich tradition and heritage among runners throughout the South. Tradition best describes the Turkey Day Race. In the February 1986 issue of RUNNER’S WORLD, an article entitled “You Should Be Committed,” covered the 78th Annual Turkey Day Race in a feature on a local runner, Mr. Albert Briede.
In 2008, Mr. Briede participated in his 50th consecutive Turkey Day Race. Incredible !
Make this historic New Orleans race part of your holiday and history !