On February 27, 1970, the sprint medley relay team of John Herma, Jim Smith, Tom Ulan, and Rob Kerr won the Scarlet Knights’ first national championship in track and field, taking home gold at the AAU Indoor National Track Championships. The team had won big races at the Millrose Games and the Olympic Invitational that winter. “And we won the mile relay title at the Baltimore Sun Paper Games,” Herma RC’70 says. “With each race that season, we got used to giving a little bit extra.”

But they were serious underdogs heading into the championships, held at Madison Square Garden. “As the only college team, we were facing experienced runners who were nationally ranked,” says Ulan RC’71, remembering the former Olympians, postgraduates, and elite sprinters, who had been competing ever since the Rutgers students had been in high school. “We were committed,” says Herma. “And that special night, we put it all together.” 

“The race was on the banked wooden track,” Ulan says, “and the relay distances were a little odd for such a small track.” The track, conforming to the building’s interior, measured 160 yards around and thus required 11 laps to complete a mile. Ulan ran the 440-yard leg, Herma the 100-yard leg, Smith RC’70 the 220-yard leg, and Kerr RC’71 the 300-yard leg. 

The size of the track and the position of the transitions made the baton handoffs crucial, with the athletes well aware that their passes, especially on the turns, had to be precise. “During the final race, each one was more perfect than the one before,” says Ulan. “And with each leg, we kept pulling away.” The team had a winning time of 1:53.40. 

“We were elated,” he says. “We just couldn’t believe that we were national champions.”

Coached by the late Les Wallack, who imparted a mental toughness to each of them, the four alumni, who were inducted into the Rutgers Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013, have remained friends and often vacation together. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of their win, they were honored during the football game between Rutgers and Boston College on September 21.