Was Jefferson High School's 1950 Team the Greatest High School Track Team Ever?
Edited by R.
Sweeney, Updated July, 1998.
Source: Article contributed by Hank Johnson, Football Coach, Dean of Students, and Alumni of Thomas Jefferson High School.
This web page describes the accomplishments of the greatest team in a series of fabulous track and field teams at Thomas Jefferson High School. With 8 State Championships in Track and Field (1937, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1956, 1962, and 1964), no other high school in the nation can match what the Democrats at Jefferson High have accomplished.
During the Depression Years and before, thousands of Blacks migrated from the South to the Los Angeles area, where most settled along Central Avenue, the focus of African-American culture in the West. Many of the children of this migration to South-Central LA attended Thomas Jefferson High School, which for two decades or more was unexcelled nationally in the quality of it's track and field athletes.
The Democrats dominated the great Southern League, arguably the top track league in the nation. The Southern League schools over the years produced the likes of Otis Davis, Corny Johnson, John Smith, Johnny Fulton, Hubie Kerns, Harlow Rothert, Ernie Shelton as well as Jefferson's own Mal Whitfield and Charlie Dumas, to mention just a few of the many national and world class athletes.
Between 1935 and 1953, Jefferson won 14 varsity championships in LA City, at that time probably the toughest section in the toughest track state in the nation, if not the world. These neighborhood kids (no recruiting or busing for integration purposes existed in those days) easily dominated the always great California State Meets from 1949-52, reaching the zenith in 1950.
Under coaches Estel Johnson (NAAU 400m Hurdle runner-up in 1935) and field event specialist Joe Berry, this mid-city Jefferson squad pulverized some of the most noted track schools in six dual meets, then ran away from all opposition in league, sectional and state competition. They had no less than ten individuals who ranked in the "official" national lists, in seven different events, and led the nation in two relays, setting four city, two state and one national record along the way. Even in their "weak" events, the 1950 Jefferson team had performances near national caliber.
Jefferson began the season on March 10, 1950 by trouncing another well know "track factory", LA Jordan, in a non-league dual meet by the score of 81 3/5 to 21 2/5. Jefferson proceeded to sweep through league opponents Washington 88-15, Fremont 83-21, Roosevelt 85-19, Manual Arts 76 1/2 - 27 1/2, and Garfield 80-24.
In the hotly contested Southern League Championships, Jeff (on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis) almost outscored the remaining five schools combined. Varsity team scores: Jefferson 88, Manual Arts 30 1/2, Roosevelt 19, Garfield 17, Fremont 12 5/6, and Washington 12 2/3.
The Los Angeles City Championships, at that time held in conjunction with the Coliseum Relays, were usually decided by twenty points or less in Varsity Team Competition. Before an unusually small crowd of 40,139 paying customers, Jefferson completely embarrassed the opposition, with the largest point total ever at that point. Scoring (10-8-6-4-2-1) was Jeff 111, Jordan 29, Huntington Park 23, Manual Arts 20, Polytechnic 19 1/3, Washington 17, with 21 other schools with lesser totals. In other words, the Democrats outscored the next five schools combined, schools which also fielded national caliber athletes.
Concluding the season on May 27, 1950, Jefferson athletes won five events (a feat never since surpassed) at Sacramento in the California State Meet. For the only time in the 75 year history of the meet, one school outscored the next three schools combined. On a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, the Democrats accumulated the highest state meet point total in history. Jeff totaled 40 points, a virtual one-man Glendale High team was second at 18, LA Jordan third with 12 and all other schools scored fever than ten. And this meet had by far the best collection of high school track athletes in the nation for that year.
In summarizing the impressive individual performances of the 1950 Jeff team, one must keep in mind that these were the days of loose dirt tracks and runways (even the shot rings were dirt), sawdust pits, bamboo poles, heavy wooden hurdles and crude track shoes. Furthermore, event limitation rules prevented some athletes and relay teams from competing in some of their better events and non-winning marks (even superior ones) were seldom reported.
Guy Blackburn 9.6
Gary Green 9.8
Larry Williams 9.8
Floyd Dennis Jr. 9.9*
Leon Alexander 10.0* * Estimated non-winning times.
Williams, second in city and state as a junior in 1949,
was the top man early in the season, but Blackburn emerged as league and
city champ (setting a city record), then Green, who had been runner-up
in league and city, upset his teammate as they went one-two in state. Blackburn
ran 9.8 or better seven times. The best races in the country may have been
in run-offs on Tuesday to see who would run sprints and relays in that
week's meet (10.0 sprinters were left on the sidelines in Friday dual meets).
Blackburn's best was equal to #2 on the National List for the year (and
was #7 all-time on National List), Green was #9 on the National List for
220 Yards (National Leader - 20.9; National top-ten qualifiers - 21.3 . . .all times on straightaway)
Guy Blackburn 21.2
Floyd Dennis Jr. 21.9
Larry Williams 21.9
Gary Green 21.3
Blackburn, who was under 22 at least five times, was league
and city champ, then ran 21.3 to win the state title. "Teddy Bear" Williams,
was number one early in the season, after having finished second in city
and state in 1949 in this event as well. Dennis was second in league and
third in city. Green ran his only furlong in post-season, finishing fifth
in the Compton Invitation Open Men's Division, to earn a tie for eighth
on the National List.
440Yards (National Leader - 48.1; National top-ten qualifier 48.7)
Gary Green 48.6
Albert Moore Jr. 53.3
Green won all his "quarters" through the city finals,
where he turned in a big "PR", winning by 19 yards in a meet record, followed
by a second place in state at 49.0, his second year as a state runner-up.
League finalists Moore (second in League) and Tapscott, probably ran non-winning
880 Yards (National Leader - 1:53.9; National top-ten qualifier 1:58.7)
Lang Stanley 1:53.9
George Sanchez 2:00.8
Wilbur Williams 2:01.3
Mackabee Hunter 2:02.3
Stanley ran the mile, at national class levels, early
in the season, but switched to the half the last five weeks of the season,
running consecutively 1:58.7. 1:57.0 (league record), 1:54.6 (city record
in prelims), 1:56.1 and 1:53.9 (state and by May 10 a national record).
Sanchez and Williams were second and third in league, with Sanchez placing
sixth in city. Top prospect Hunter was killed in a mid-season National
1 Mile (National Leader - 4:21.0; National top-ten qualifier 4:27.0)
Lang Stanley 4:33.6
Jimmy Walker Jr. 4:35.8
Stanley was third in city at 4:31.6 and fourth in State
in 1949 as a junior, ran under 4:40 early in 1950, but dropped the event
(rules prohibited doubling), through he would have been favored to win
State. Walker then won league, and was second in city (with PR). Carter
probably ran well under 4:50 in finishing third in league. Williams was
one of the top long distance runners (cross-country) in the city.
120 Yard High Hurdles/39 inch (National Leader - 14.1; National top-ten qualifier 14.5)
Fred Hogan Jr. 15.6
Maurice Landrum 15.7
Arthur Elster Jr. 15.6
The Democrats, in their "weak" track events, finish first
in Southern League (Hogan with a PR) and third (Landrum). Elster was also
a league finalist and probably the best overall hurdler on the team.
180 Yard Low Hurdles/30 inch (National Leader - 18.9; National top-ten qualifier 19.5)
Leo Hamilton 19.4
Jack Casonhua 19.6
Malcolm Vest Jr.
Hamilton won league (19.7) and city (19.6), then finished
third in state with his PR. He ran 19.9 or better six times, with his best
rating seventh on the National List. Casonhua finished one place back of
his team-mate in all major meets, and his fourth place in state was his
personal record. League finalist Vest probably ran well under 21 flat.
High Jump (National Leader - 6' 5 1/4"; National top-ten qualifier 6' 4")
Doug Epright 6' 4"
Robert Fairchild Jr. 5' 10"
Robert Logan 5' 10"
John Boldy 6' 0"
Epright was runner-up in league (6' 0") and sixth in city
(5' 10"), which was considerable below his early season best, which ranked
him #9 on the National List. Fairchild and Logan were league finalists
and may have had higher marks (non-winning performances were seldom reported).
Boldy cleared 6' 0" in a Junior Olympic meet. Two other non-varsity performers,
including future city varsity champ Laverne Smith, were 5' 10" or better.
Pole Vault (National Leader - 13' 9"; National top-ten qualifier 12' 8 1/2")
Sam Plenty 12' 0"
Cleveland Hill 11' 3"
Plenty cleared his best in placing second in league. Hill
was also a league finalist with his personal record.
Long Jump (National Leader - 24' 6 1/2"; National top-ten qualifier 23' 2")
William Johnson 24' 6 1/2"
Art Scott 24' 2"
Bob Holland 22' 1 1/4"
Johnson, a state finalist for three years (4th
in 1949), jumped over 23' seven times, ranked second nationally (7th
all-time National Performer), won all major meets, leaping 24' 2 3/4" in
state. Scott ranked third on The National List, was runner-up to Johnson
in league and city, then fourth in state. Holland completed a Jefferson
sweep in league with a PR. Non-varsity performers, junior Willie Gallerson
and sophomore Roy Range lept 22' 11" and 21' 6 1/4".
Shot Put (National Leader - 58' 8"; National top-ten qualifier 54' 10 1/2")
Govan Hill 50' 0 1/2"
Henry Patterson 48' 2 1/2"
Hill reached a big personal record in placing third in
8 x 220 Yard Relay
Guy Blackburn 2:57.5
An event nearly unique to Los Angeles City (since abandoned)
and always the feature concluding race of the Coliseum Relays, was usually
decided in the final yards of the last furlong leg. In 1950, Jefferson,
after running 2:58.8 to win league, smashed all previous existing records
to win the City Finals by nearly sixty yards! Splits averaged under 22.2
for the eight runners, with several other speedsters standing by in reserve.
4 x 220 Yard Relay (National Leader - 1:28.4; National top-ten qualifier 1:29.8)
Gary Green 1:28.4
Running this event exactly two times, the Democrats ran a nation leading time in qualifying for state and sped away to win the State finals in 1:28.6
Due to very restrictive rules in Los Angeles at the time, city schools were not permitted to run in relay meets. Thus the 1950 Jefferson team never got the opportunity to run a 4 x 880 Yard Relay, where they may have destroyed the national record. Nor were they able to run a shuttle hurdle, or even the common 4 x 110 Yard Relay or 4 x 440 Yard Relay, where they were capable of recording national leading times.
Was the 1950 Los Angeles Jefferson squad the best high school team ever? Several schools have been superior in some events, but have any had national ranking in nine events in one year? There have been schools which have had three, or four, or even five national rankers (North Phoenix in the late fifties comes to mind), but ten individuals, plus relay teams? Some may have dominated the sprints, or distances, or jumps, or weights as much, but have any had national class or near national class competitors in every event? Some prep schools (Mercersburg of Pennsylvania for instance) and some public schools (Berkeley, California in the early 1980's) have been able to recruit superior talent from several school districts, but has any neighborhood school been able to bring together so much talent at one time? Hundreds of schools have dominated local schools for a year or more, but has any absolutely squashed such high level interscholastic competition so completely? If so, we would like to hear about it.
Source: Article contributed by Hank Johnson,
Football Coach, Dean of Students, and Alumni of Thomas Jefferson High School.
More Track & Field News:
In June, 1998 student Gary Love was selected for the Los Angeles Times Prep Honor Roll, City Section for the long jump.
We hope to post the school records here soon, thanks to Mr. Sweeney.
And while you are here, check out US Amateur Track.
Please send additional information related to Jefferson
High School's Great Track Teams to:
Randy Sweeney, Science Teacher, Jefferson High School.
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