Origins Of My Track & Field Interest




March 5, 2021 ~ Wisconsin to Sierra Leone







Origins Of My Track & Field Interest

By Dave Figi ~ Wisconsin Track Online

I grew up as a football-basketball-baseball enthusiast. My first real experience with track and field took place in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Then back in the USA during my teaching career I helped at track meets timing or measuring in the spring while coaching football and basketball during the fall and winter months. Our son John and daughter Alison competed in track and field at Craig High School in Janesville. Their positive experiences in the sport made a lasting impression on me. In 1994 I began helping Dave Lehmann the girls track and field coach at Janesville Parker High School with the Girls Honor Roll. Below is a look back at my origins with the sport. Each day I learn more about the sport and the website Wisconsin Track Online is a small attempt to promote the positives of participation in track and field.
March is the 60th anniversary of the start of the Peace Corps. President John F. Kennedy energized a generation of Americans by setting in motion an organization designed to send a volunteer corps to help emerging nations with their schools, agriculture, and economies. I applied to the Peace Corps shortly after Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963. After graduation from UW-Whitewater in 1965 I began a two year assignment to Moyamba, Sierra Leone, West Africa. The town I was in had a boys and girls school and I taught at both. Jody Deyer a PCV from Connecticut coached the girls team at Harford school. When she left I helped keep the program going.

Sierra Leone has a rainy season for about 6 months and then a dry season. The track season was during the dry season. The tremendous growth of plants and grass from the rainy season had to be cleared in order to rough out the oval for the track. That was quite a task so I had the warden at the prison lend us some of his prisoners to help prepare the track and build shelters to shield athletes from the sun. Of course, there was a tradeoff. I had to secure movies to show the prisoners. The movies were terrible, old silent pictures and some westerns from the very first days of Hollywood. In addition, I was locked in the holding area with the prisoners as I operated the schools movie projector. But it was worth it as the school could then have a 'normal' track meet.

In the team photo I am in the 2nd row on the far left. At the end of the meet pictured there was a coaches 100 yard race. I won that race. However, there was some discussion on that finish and the race was run again. I also won the rerun. That was the highlight of my competitive track career.
Above left: Gladys Dunbar a student/athlete from Harford School at the National Track Meet in Freetown [1967 photo].
Above right: In the 1960's Sierra Leone had stamps that were collectors items [photo is actual size].
Each year Sierra Leone had a National High School Meet. This meet was held in the capitol city of Freetown which was about 98 miles from Moyamba. The tracks were not hard surface or cinder in the 1960's. However there were chalk lines for lanes.

Above left: Harford student Gladys Dunbar at the National Meet placed first in the javelin throw. The javelin throw is an Olympic event.
Above right: Harford's Drusilla Samba [far right] at the start of the 220 yard dash. She placed second in that event. Sierra Leone had quite a British influence and the English system of measurement was used at that time.
Left: Gladys Dunbar [left] and Drusilla Samba at the National Meet in Freetown 1967.

After being away for 37 years my wife and I returned to Sierra Leone in 2004. We visited Moyamba. My principal at the Boys School John Laggah had died in 2000 during the Civil War in Sierra Leone. Principal Laggah's gravesite is next to the entrance to the school [below left]. In 1966-67 Bill Cox a Peace Corps volunteer from Iowa organized a project in which two new classrooms were built. I was amazed that the building still existed in 2004. In 2004 I asked a staff member 'who built that structure?' I smiled when he said he did not know but that they called the building the "USA Building" [below right].

After visiting Sierra Leone in 2004 my wife and I returned from 2005 through 2008 to work with Hope and Les Law from Colorado and their organization Rocky Mountain Chapter of Operation Classroom. Our projects included teacher inservices and school construction.
Harford School Volleyball Team 1967
Front row L-R: Yvonnie Williams, unidentified, Dorcas Kargbo, and Regina Komba.
Back row L-R: Gladys Dunbar, Alice Fillie, Phyllis Garner, Alice Sinah, and Alice Kai Kai.


The Harford girls were great students and terrific athletes. They have gone on to become leaders in their country. One student [Dorcas (Kargbo) Kamanda - row 1, 2nd from right] went to college in the USA and became a nurse. She has returned to Sierra Leone to assist her brother Peacemaker and sister Finah in maintaining a medical clinic that serves many people in the northern area around the city of Kabala. Like his sister, Peacemaker is also a nurse and during the Civil War from 1991 to 2002 in Sierra Leone he administered to many people even though he was being hunted by the rebels.
Above left: Narsarah Clinic, Kabala, Sierra Leone. Above right: Dorcas Kargbo [right] at the Narsarah Clinic in Kabala in 2008.

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