Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lightning Legs

Leslie's grandfather, Leslie Wittman (she was named after him), lived a long, happy, and prosperous life. You did not have to know him for very long before it became clear that his time at the University of Michigan, and his participation on the track team were highlights of his life.

Les ran the 100 yard dash for the Wolverines during the years 1920-1925. It is believed he lost one of the years due to Scarlet Fever. His stories of the Penn Relays, the Drake Relays, the Big Ten Championships, and the Olympic Trials were amazing. He told of very little coaching, no stretching, no starting blocks (they dug holes for their feet), and all cinder tracks. I well remember his story of the team being in Chicago, and being shown around by what he later realized were some of Al Capone's gangsters.

The 1923 Michigan team. He is in the third row up, second from the left.

"Lightening Legs", which was his nickname, was good. He was the 100 yard dash Big Ten Champion in 1923, setting a Big Ten record in the process. Here is a list of the Big Ten 100 Yard dash champions:
1923--Leslie Wittman, Michigan, 9.8
1924--DeHart Hubbard, Michigan, 9.8
1925--DeHart Hubbard, Michigan, 9.74
1926--Buck Hester, Michigan, 10.2
Victor Leschinsky, Michigan, 10.2
1927--Buck Hester, Michigan, 9.9
1928--George Simpson, Ohio State, 9.7
1929--Eddie Tolan, Michigan, 9,5
1930--George Simpson, Ohio State, 9.7
1931--Eddie Tolan, Michigan, 9.6
1932--Don Bennett, Ohio State, 9.5
1933--Willis Ward, Michigan, 9.6
1934--Hunter Russell, Illinois, 10.0
1935--Jesse Owens, Ohio State, 9.4

You may recognize the 1935 winner.

The 1924 season was special, and Les was on his way to the Olympics, but pulled a hamstring just before the boat was to leave for Paris. If you have seen the movie, "Chariots of Fire", that was Gramp's Olympics.

The 1925 Michigan NCAA National Championship team. He is in the front row center.

Les's college life in the 1920's. This Sigma Nu dance was held at University of Michigan Union. Les is on the floor in the center with Leslie's grandmother, Maybelle, to his left in the dark dress. (remember that clicking on any picture makes it larger)

His running success started early. Here is Leslie Wittman (front row, 3rd from left) with his Detroit Eastern High School State Champions in 1918.

This is the Gramp I got to know for the last 25 years of his life.


  1. Amazing post! I love seeing the parallels... obviously there are more, but... the successful fraternity college experience shared by his great grandson. We have Sigma Chi formal photos of us that look quite similar.

    Tracy T.

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