By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
I had the pleasure of introducing the latest inductees into the Western New York Running Hall of Fame on Friday night. Here is how I outlined their many accomplishments.
There’s a phrase in baseball, oddly enough that comes to mind when discussing our first inductee. It’s called “the five-tool player.” That’s someone who can hit, hit with power, run, throw, and field. You can do all of that, and you might be headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now, I don’t know about her fielding ability. But when it comes to putting one foot in front of another, is there anything Judy Arlington hasn’t done? Nothing comes to mind.
Judy was a superb runner for several years. She took part in three sports at Cortland – cross country, track and swimming. Judy was part of a couple of national champion teams in cross country in 1988 and 1989, and set school records in the 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer run. Judy was an All-American in 10 different categories during her days in Cortland.
After graduation, she kept running – and was still very good at it. More than a decade after graduation, Judy was The Buffalo News’ Female Runner of the Year in 2001. She also has won several age-group honors in that series over the years.
But Arlington also shared her skills with others. She served as the cross-country coach at Medaille from 2011 to 2015, and was coach of the year in her conference in 2011. From there she moved on to become an assistant coach in cross country and track at Daemen.
In her spare time, Judy works with Lockport High School’s running teams, and spends time at the YMCA to help prepare novices for the annual Y-10 race in February. Maybe the kids ought to listen to her, since she set a course record in that event. If you need someone to stage an event, Judy can help too. She started a summer track program in 2016, and that became a popular addition to the running calendar.
It’s an impressive resume, and makes her a good fit in the group of elite performers and contributors that we salute. Let’s welcome to the Hall of Fame, five-tool performer Judy Arlington.
The Board of Directors tries to cast a big net when it comes to candidates for the Western New York. The group doesn’t just look for those who won the genetic lottery to have a chance to be fast, or at those who helped others win races. However, the Board probably will admit privately that computer skills are an unusual contribution to a running resume.
Yet, here’s our second inductee, ready to take a bow with the best racers the area has to offer. And there’s no doubt Jeff John meets the standard as a major contributor to the sport in Western New York.
Jeff’s running days started as a school boy in Southern California, where he never knew the pleasures of running on snow. He later transferred to the University at Buffalo, and served as an unpaid assistant coach for cross country and track. Jeff also covered the team for the UB student newspaper. Along the way, he became a Master Level USATF Certified Track & Field Official. Jeff has been a race director for several local events, including the 6-Hour Distance Classic, and also measures courses in order to guarantee an accurate and good running experience.
Jeff probably was a better runner than most people realize. He has broken 15 minutes over five kilometers, and he has run 50 marathons in 30 states. He ran a 2 hour, 40 minute marathon in 1978 in Rochester.
But buffalorunners.com remains Jeff’s masterpiece. It started as a simple project in 2000 for the Greater Buffalo Track Club, featuring a schedule of club races and results. From there it was a relatively simple jump in imagination to having a site with a full schedule of races and results. The work wasn’t so simple at the beginning since everything had to be typed in by hand. But now the site has almost two million results on it, and is visited by thousands of people every day.
Sum it up this way – no one has touched more runners over the past 18 years than this man. The running community is a better place for his tireless work. For all his thankless jobs over the years, consider this one big thank-you note from all of us to Jeff John.
Our third inductee has had an unfair advantage over the rest of us when it comes to achievements. It would seem that Bridget Niland has been given 30 hours for each day of her life, while the rest of us have been restricted to 24. How else can you explain a lifetime of personal and professional achievement, all while raising five children? Compared to Bridget, the rest of us are mere slackers.
Western New York first noticed this time warp when she was in college. Bridget was the captain of her cross country and track teams for the University at Buffalo, and broke five school records at track. That body of work led to her induction in the UB Sports Hall of Fame. It takes a lot of work to be that good, but she still had time to serve as the chair of the NCAA national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee from 1996 through 1998. That served a key role in changing the relationship between student-athletes and their universities.
After graduation, Niland picked up a couple of graduate degrees, but still was in good enough shape to earn Runner of the Year honors from The Buffalo News in 1999. From there, Bridget worked in the Department of Justice and for the NCAA.
She came home to serve as the athletic director at Daemen, and guided that college from Division III to Division II in athletics. Niland also helped out the Sports Management and Business Law departments.
Earlier this year, Bridget found a new challenge – as if she needed it. She’s the director of Youth Sports Initiatives, a part of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. There she is helping to improve athletics for young people through the area, backed by the Ralph Wilson Foundation. There is little doubt that she’ll make Western New York a fitter place by the time she’s done there.
Buffalo News sportswriter Mark Gaughan once called Bridget “one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met.” With all of that going for her, we all knew that someday she’d add one more item to her list of achievements. Now, that day has arrived. Please salute our final new member of the Western New York Running Hall of Fame – Bridget Niland
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)