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Original Issue

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up

A cluster of the brightest high school track stars in the U.S. met at Sacramento and turned in some startling, grown-up performances

On the Berkeley campus of the University of California, one of the few places where a student can major in placard-carrying and sit-ins, the nation's finest college track and field athletes assembled last weekend to compete in the NCAA championships. First places in five events went to sophomores who, in the Cal spirit of things, had little respect for the establishment and made their presence unpleasant for their elders. But those sophs had better be warily watching over their own shoulders for signs of revolt, because in a track and field meet 80 miles away in Sacramento a group of high school boys proved themselves so strong and swift that they could hardly be distinguished from their college counterparts.

The showcase for the upstart precollegians was the Golden West Invitational Track and Field Meet, a grandly named affair run by the North Sacramento Optimist Club in all the big-time atmosphere of a Moose Lodge potluck supper. With little public or press support, the Optimists took over the meet from the Los Angeles area, where it had failed for five years to outdraw Little League games. They managed to attract prep stars from 26 states (even though they could not afford to pay transportation expenses for their competitors), and they arranged to have old-time Miler Glenn Cunningham on hand to pass out bric-a-brac to the winners.

Since not much has happened on Sacramento's sports scene lately—though there was the Camellia Bowl last fall—5,061 of the curious trickled into Hughes Stadium and were pleasantly surprised. Bob Beamon, a lanky 18-year-old from Jamaica, N.Y., hopped, stepped and jumped 50 feet 3¼ inches with the aid of a slightly favoring wind which was good enough to have won the NCAA title at Berkeley (where Clarence Robinson of the University of New Mexico did 50 feet 2 inches). Beamon also took a shot at the long jump but fouled five times, though at least two of the fouls came on leaps of more than 25 feet. Ron Freeman of Elizabeth, N.J., won the 440 in 46.8, only .6 second slower than the NCAA, and Bob Hawke, a brute from Butte, Mont., threw the high-school discus 187 feet 11 inches.

The considerable skills and versatility of the boys competing in the meet was not always evident, however. For instance, Steve Lane, from George West, a little bitty Texas town south of San Antonio, did not place in the high hurdles, but Baylor University still wants him badly, and with good reason. In his Texas regional meet, Lane won the high hurdles, the low hurdles, the shot-put and the discus and later on won both the high hurdles and the discus in the state Class-A meet. (He also made all-state fullback.) Cliff Larson, bound for the University of Houston, finished fifth in the discus in Sacramento, but he did 190 feet 11 inches earlier this year. He is a Class-AAA all-state guard in football. Craig Grant and Bruce Bowman from Hillside, Ill. ran on four relay teams that set national scholastic records; both are USC prospects.

Two national high school record holders, Half-miler Richard Joyce of Whittier, Calif., and Pole Vaulter Paul Wilson of Downey, Calif., did not appear in the meet, but celebrity-conscious fans got their money's worth from Olympian Jim Ryun of Wichita East High School in Kansas. Ryun, the first high school boy to run a sub-four-minute mile, decided he would use his last schoolboy meet to attempt an unprecedented double, the two mile and the mile. Twice before in the Golden West meet the distance double had been tried, and both times the boy trying it pooped out in his second race like a middle-aged man trying to catch both games of a weekend softball double-header. In 1962 Doug Brown of Red Lodge, Mont., who won two distance events in the NCAA meet this year (but on different days), won the two-mile in 9:16.2 but was a well-beaten fifth in the mile. The following year Tracy Smith of Arcadia, Calif., now at Oregon State, also won the two-mile, but he finished out of the money in the mile.

Ryun's goal in the two-mile was to better the national high school record of 8:56.5, held by little Gerry Lindgren of Spokane, Wash. When Ryun was a junior, he met Lindgren in an indoor two mile run in San Francisco's Cow Palace, but he fell on the first turn and never really got back in the race. In Sacramento, Ryun's try at Lindgren's schoolboy record failed, though he did set a meet record of 9:04. Dissatisfied with the early pace, he took over himself and led the rest of the way, his head wobbling characteristically like a bobble doll's.

Ryun rested for a little more than an hour and came back to run the mile, where his chief opposition figured to be Jim Olson of Kirkwood, Mo., who had run 4:06.5 a week earlier. Ryun held back most of the way, giving the fans some hope that it might be a close and exciting finish, but then he easily sprinted away from Olson to win in 4:04.3. After his unprecedented double he appeared only mildly tired.

"He probably will be one of the great ones for some time," said J. D. Edmiston, Ryun's coach at East High. "If he runs his normal course as distance runners go, he's got a long time to run."

The next four years of Ryun's "long time" will be spent at the University of Kansas, where his former coach at East High, Bob Timmons, takes over as head track coach next fall. Wasting no time, Timmons so far seems to be doing the best job of recruiting in the country, although he does not like to admit it. Six boys good enough to be asked to compete in the Golden West have definitely decided to join Timmons at Kansas, and all six of them placed, collecting three firsts, two seconds, one third and two fourths. Two years from now, when Kansas aims at the NCAA championship, their presence will be felt.

Miler Mike Petterson of Wichita East, who has run in Ryun's spike tracks all through high school, will try to pass him sometime during their stay at Kansas. Mike finished fourth in the Golden West mile. Kenny Gaines, a high jumper from Kinsley, Kan. who has jumped 6 feet 7¼ inches, was considering Kansas State but switched to Kansas at Timmons' urging. George Byers of Kansas City, Mo. finished third in the high hurdles and second in the lows, and Javelin Thrower Ron Shelley of Southeast High in Wichita missed winning his event by less than a foot.

Next to Ryun, Timmons' biggest prize at the meet was Bob Steinhoff of Downey, Calif., a pole-vaulting teammate of the more famous Paul Wilson. But Steinhoff is a 16-footer in his own right, and Timmons has stolen him from under the noses of all the track-crazy California schools by signing up Steinhoffs high school coach as an assistant at Kansas. Steinhoff won at 15 feet 6 inches and made 16 feet on an unofficial try. The NCAA pole vault was won at 15 feet 8½ inches.

Ryun, hugging the large Governor's Trophy given to him for being the outstanding performer in the meet, tried to explain Timmons' recruiting magic.

"He's just a tremendous coach. He has a tremendous reputation. He's had a part in five or six boys getting out here to this meet, and that's pretty good. He also coached swimming and in nine years won seven state championships. The other two years he was second."

Timmons is a short man with close-cropped hair and a self-effacing manner. He pretends bewilderment at the complexities of college recruiting.

"We just try to tell the boys a little bit about the school and some of the boys we have, and about our goals," he said. "You should talk to some of these college coaches who know about this. I'm new at it."

"That Timmons will give Kansas quite a team," said one coach at the meet. "He gives that song and dance, 'I'm new at this,' but he's done a tremendous job for such a short time. He's a guy who loves the sport and the kids. This is his life. Family is second, everything else is second. He won't rest until he's got the national title."




DOUBLE WINNER Jim Ryun receives trophy and admiring look from runner Marie Mulder.