It happens about once a week. In the course of serving customers at the St. Francis Bar-B-Que restaurant in Camarillo, Calif., Jeremy Fischer starts talking sports and it leaks out that he competes in track and field for the local high school.
"What event?" the customer always asks.
"High jump," answers Fischer.
"Yeah, right," says the customer, smirking as he sizes up the 5'9", 145-pound Fischer. "How high can you go?"
"I say, 'Seven feet, four inches,' " says Fischer. "And then we both laugh real hard."
Except that this is no joke. Three weeks ago at a meet in Santa Barbara, Fischer jumped 7'4", 19 inches above his height and the best jump by a high school athlete this season. The Adolfo Camarillo High senior has also cleared 7'2" three times this year and last Saturday won the 27th Arcadia/Foot Locker Invitational, easily clearing seven feet on his first try but missing at 7'2¼" as the night air grew colder and the wind stronger.
"That boy has got some springs," said long jump world-record holder Mike Powell, who was watching the Arcadia meet and was clearly dazzled by the little guy. "His height may hurt him in the long run, but he's definitely got bounce."
Fischer discovered the bounce when he started dunking basketballs as a 5'9" eighth-grader. That same year, just for fun, he entered the high jump competition at a local Rotary Club meet and won, clearing 6'3". "That's when we knew we had a pretty gifted athlete in the family," says his mother, Ann. "We already knew he was special."
Fischer was born in Seoul, the son of a Korean woman and an African-American serviceman. They named him Hosaing Park but gave him up for adoption when he was three, not wanting to subject him to the trauma of being a mixed-race child in an Asian country. For that, Fischer says he is grateful. "I have a wonderful life," he says. "I don't know what my life would have been like if my biological parents hadn't made that decision."
Fischer switched his concentration from basketball to track when he got to high school and realized that he had stopped growing. He jumped 6'11½" as a sophomore and improved to 7'2" as a junior. Coaches say his speed and explosive takeoff compensate for his lack of height. Most elite jumpers are at least 6 feet tall, but Fischer takes heart from the success of former U.S. stars Franklin Jacobs, who was 5'8" and cleared 7'7¼", and Rick Noji, who was also 5'8" and cleared 7'4½".
"Height doesn't matter," says Camarillo coach Dennis Riedmiller, "if you have a great mental attitude, as Jeremy does."
Last fall Fischer accepted a scholarship to Wisconsin, making the decision early because he was impressed with both the school's biology program (he hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon) and its indoor track facilities. But he also wanted to end the craziness of the recruiting process in order to enjoy his senior season. Fischer came close to breaking the 10-year-old national high school record of 7'5¼" at the Santa Barbara meet. If he gets close again, he would like to put the bar at 7'6".
Imagine the laughs at the restaurant then.
The 5'9" high school senior is clearly a short man who can jump.