Extraordinary Stories

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

The "Could My Dad Have Gotten It Wrong? Story

Freedom display featuring Henry Norwood "Barney" Ewell.
It was an ordinary day.  My first day visiting The Lancaster County Historical Society as a new member.  My wife bought me the membership as a Christmas gift and I finally decided it was time for a visit.  Wanted to see the "Freedom" display that is in the main lobby for a few more months.  One of the displays was an entire wall filled with photos and memorabilia about Lancaster's own Barney Ewell who attended John Piersol McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and who won a Gold Medal in the 1948 Olympics.  
Sprinter Barney Ewell
As I stood in front of the forty foot long display, reading the many accolades of Mr. Ewell, I wondered if my dad could have gotten it wrong.  Seems my dad went to school with Barney and told me more than once that Barnney borrowed money from him, as well as other classmates, and never repaid the debt.  "Happened more than once, until I figured I wasn't getting my money back and stopped giving him money.  Then he hit the next guy up for money until he also realized he wasn't getting repaid," dad told me.  Heard the story more than once and I began to dislkie the guy who became famous and never repaid his debts.  
Plaque awarded to Barney for McCaskey HS Hall of Fame
I looked at one photograph after another and read the literature on the wall in the Historical Society and wondered if this really was the guy who my dad had told me about.  Couldn't have been ... or could it?  Seems that Henry Norwood Ewell, known to his classmates as "Barney," was born into a poor family on February 25, 1918.  He became Pennsylvania's greatest high school sprinter and jumper in the mid-1930s.  
Another award from the state of Pennsylvania.
He attended high school with my dad and was a track and field star at the school.  In 1988, Barney entered the J.P. McCaskey Athletic Hall of Fame during the school's 50th Anniversary year.  After graduation he entered Pennsylvania State University, but dropped out in order to serve in the United States Army.  
His 1948 Olympic Gold Medal for the 4 x 100 race.
After his time in the Army, he returned to Penn State and received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1947.  While at Penn State, before he entered the service, he was a celebrated sprinter and jumper, running the 100 meter and 200 meter races and winning 12 gold medals between 1940 and 1942.  Since both the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Summer Games were canceled, he lost hope that he would ever be a celebrated Olympian.  
Receiving his Silver Medal for the 100 meter dash.
By the time the '48 Olympics came around, everyone thought Barney was past his prime and had missed his chance at a Gold Medal.  He surprised everyone by making the team, equaling the world record of 10.2 in the 100 meter dash at the 1948 AAU Championships, which served as the Olympic trials.  He ran the 100 meter dash at London and thought he had won the race, but it was awarded to teammate Harrison Dillard with Barney taking the Silver Medal.  In the 200 meter race he also took the Silver to teammate Mel Patton.  He was added to the 4 x 100 relay after teammate Ed Conwell became sick.  The U.S. team easily won the race, but were disqualified due to an "out of the zone" baton exchange between Ewell and Lorenzo Wright.  
This photo shows Jesse Owens (seated) talking with Barney
Ewell.  Both were World Class athletes in track and field.
After reviewing the film of the race the officials reversed the ruling and Barney was awarded the Gold Medal along with his team members.  Barney contributed to his community by encouraging young athletes to strive for excellence in every thing they did in life.  He eventually, in later life, had both his legs amputated due to diabetes.  Not sure what year that might have been, but dad never said a bad word about Barney after that happened.  I guess he figured Barney had paid the price.  Barney died on April 4, 1996 in Lancaster.  He will be remembered forever as one of Lancaster's most prolific athletes.  And, I still wonder if dad could have gotten it wrong!  Nah, dad was always right!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  

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