Whatever modest athletic achievements I had were in track. They are not worth mentioning, except that they contain one quasi-amusing story, which I will now relate in my inimitably quasi-lucid style.
My brother and I both ran the mile and the 880. I was competitive on a local basis (meaning I could usually place if the competition was not too tough). Our arch nemesis my senior season was Greg Luther from Charleston.
Greg was a stocky fellow who, if I remember correctly, had played guard on the Tiger football team. He was strong, competitive, and tough as nails. We competed in meets all season, culminating in the district meet at Arkansas Tech.
Coach said he wanted eight points from me in that meet. Under the scoring used in 1971, that meant I could place second in two events, or first in one and fourth in another. Since Luther’s better event was the 880 and mine was the mile, I figured that if I had any chance to beat him it would be in the mile.
The first lap was run in lanes. As we broke for the curb for the second lap, two runners from Paris eased toward me and set up a perfect box – one in front of me and one on my outside shoulder. This was sound strategy, since in order to get past them I would have to fall back and go outside the second runner. This continued through the second lap. However, as we passed the halfway point of the race the outside runner fell back just enough for me to break loose without fouling him. I took off, Luther went after me, and it quickly became a two-man race.
The third lap was uneventful as we pulled away from the field. Because he had a strong kick, and wanted to set the district record in the 880 later in the meet, I figured that Greg would not make his move until the back straight of the final lap. If I could hold him off until that final curve, I had a chance. We came down the back straight with him on my shoulder all the way. He tried to pass, but I managed to fight him off; and thus it came down to the final straightaway.
Here we must digress momentarily. Some of you will remember Otis Campbell, the town drunk in the Andy Griffith television show. There was a heavy-set fellow from Dardanelle whose last name was Campbell and who had been nicknamed “Otis” by his friends. Why he was in the race at all is puzzling. Perhaps it was punishment for some offense; who can say? In any case, he was trudging the final straight of his third lap with pain wracking his body and survival the only thought on his mind.
Running etiquette requires any runners being lapped to move aside so they do not hinder runners passing them. Otis did not know that, and could not have cared less. All he knew was that he was miserable; that he had to finish this miserable lap so that he could lumber through the final miserable lap; and that after the race he probably would disgorge his miserable lunch right on the miserable finish line.
As I came out of the final curve with Luther on my shoulder, there loomed the broad back of Otis Campbell. It quickly became obvious that he had no intention whatsoever of moving. I could not go over him; I certainly could not go through him. All I could do was break stride and go around him, by which time Luther had pulled far enough ahead that I had no chance to recover.
It is doubtful that I would have won the race in any case, for Greg Luther was an outstanding runner who went on to win state in the 880. As a small consolation, I did set the school record for the mile in that district meet. It lasted for six whole days until my brother Robert broke it in the state meet.
Oh well, life goes on. So, good night Greg, good night, Robert - and good night Otis, wherever you are.