On a hot and humid 90 degree evening in Upland, energetic chatter fills the Bond Plaza outside the LaRita Boren Campus Center.
A Saturday spent celebrating one of the university’s most storied programs is nearing its finish.
The Butler Bulldogs will be squaring off against the Trojans later, but football is not the hot topic being discussed at this Sept. 18 cookout. Instead, all conversation is focused on George Glass and the TU cross country teams — it’s an evening of hugs, handshakes and slaps on the back.
Reigning NAIA Men’s Cross Country Coach of the Year, Quinn White, is attending the event, as is soon-to-be president Michael Lindsay and his family. The men’s team — who in 2020 became the first group in Taylor University history to claim a team national championship — occupy another of the circular tables on the lawn. The women’s team, currently a top-five team in the nation, sit adjacent.
Sitting in the middle of it all, dressed in khaki pants, a black Taylor collared shirt, and his signature tan bucket hat, is Glass himself.
Glass, who graduated from Taylor in 1958, coached cross country and track and field at Taylor for 26 years. Over that span, he produced champions — both national and conference — won numerous coach of the year and NAIA awards, and led the men’s team to seven straight conference crowns from 1966–1972. He was inducted into the Taylor Athletics Hall of Fame in 1977, and the outdoor track and field complex on campus is named after him.
And, according to Dick Gygi (’67), a member of the TU track and cross country team during the mid 1960s, the trophies and titles are just a small part of that continued legacy.
“He changed our life,” Gygi said. “He pursued me in high school. He’s the first man that I had met that had such an authentic example of Christ in his life (and) in his heart.”
Ralph Foote was an individual champion in cross country for Taylor in 1969. He was a three-time All-American. Like Glass, he is also a member of the Taylor Athletics Hall of Fame.
“He treated us all exactly the same,” Foote said. “He loved all of us exactly the same.”
Part of that treatment involved an annual southern road trip in the spring. The team made stops in states like Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia. They traveled as far south as Louisiana. Glass was the driver.
And as they rumbled south, they faced off against powerhouses like Ole Miss and Alabama. They pushed past what they thought they were capable of doing out on the course. They spent time praying together. But most of all, they bonded. That’s what former runner, Terry Jordan (‘70), remembers about their time spent cruising along the southern interstates.
“He did (those trips) because he wanted us to have a bonding time as a team,” Jordan said. “He left his family at Easter and spent it with 30 guys driving a bus around the South.”
On one of the trips, the team took two vans, and one hit a guardrail and ended up flipping. Gygi witnessed the accident from his seat in the other car. He suspected that his teammates hadn’t survived. When they made it to the scene of the wreck, there was not a single broken bone.
“God was with us in all (of) those trips and we felt his presence in a real tangible way,” Gygi said. “It was a joy. We have so much to be thankful for.”
Through his faith and actions, Glass inspired and influenced his runners. Gygi credits Glass with leading him to Christ. Jordan coached cross country at the high school level for two decades. Foote notes that the lessons he learned from Coach Glass have shown him the importance of positively impacting others.
The legacy of George Glass lives on. Not just here in Upland over the course of a hot evening, but in all the places where his former students and athletes have shown others the importance of passing the faith along.
“He showed me that the baton that we hold is actually a metaphor for Christ, and that when running that race, we pass it on to somebody else,” Gygi said. “He lived his life that way, and I think it’s inspiring (to) everybody still.”