I would have enjoyed being a high jumper. At least a good high jumper. But there is little calling for one whose best is 5'8" - especially if you are a male. So coaching them made much more sense, teaching the ins and outs of the Fosbury Flop, hoping one day all my jumpers would hit that elusive 7' mark.
Dale came to Iowa State from Glenbard East High School, his teammate Dave, found his way to Ames via Duluth East High School. As freshmen they were decent jumpers, a term I also would have used to describe my coaching knowledge, Dale finishing 2nd at the 1980 state meet in Illinois, Dave 5th in Minnesota.
As a 25 year old graduate assistant, I was still young enough to goof around in the high jump before practice officially started, beginning my attempts at 5' and working my way up, hopeful that one day I might clear 6'.
When Dale and Dave arrived at the Iowa State track for practice, Dale invariably rushed over to the apron and flew over my bar in sweats, Dave a few seconds later, both grinning at me like they won an Olympic title. I hated being bested.
"Hey guys, let's make this a little more fair. How about if I have you two jump off your right foot?"
Their first couple of attempts that day were pathetic, neither of them successful at a meager 5'. I gloated at practice all day, boasting to other athletes that I had bested the two freshmen in a fierce competition.
Eventually, I worked this right-footed technique into their daily warmup routine, our "competitions" becoming more heated as days passed. Two weeks later the three of us battled over 5'6", in following sessions the competition producing different winners.
But it was clear my days of victory would soon to be a thing of the past.
Ten days later they were narrowly missing at 6', before the month was over they had both cleared 6'4" off the "wrong foot", impressing me with their coordination. Eventually I was left to jump by myself again.
Two weeks later the "Dwight and Duluth Show" was polished and the two freshmen warmed up and were ready to put on a performance. The bar was placed at 6'0", "Dwight" (as in Stones) lining up for a take-off from the left, "Duluth" (Dave) from the right. Dale raised and index finger as they skipped back to their starting points.
"And now, for your viewing entertainment, the Dwight & Duluth Show." Dale smiled like the Cheshire Cat. "We will attempt a feat never before preformed by collegiate athletes." He twirled a hand and bowed to "Duluth" so he could start his approach first, "Dwight" waiting a beat before he took off.
Duluth took ten steps and was over the bar, landing in the pit on the left side, Dwight flying through the air two seconds later, landing on the opposite side. The crossbar didn't so much as jiggle. They jumped to their feet and bowed again, Dwight holding up six fingers, Duluth four.
"The bar will be raised to 6 feet, 4 inches."
This time they reversed spots, Dwight beginning on the right, on the left Duluth twirling a hand to his compatriot. Dwight took off and Duluth followed, the pair criss-crossing over 6'4" only seconds apart, a huge grin on each face as they stood on the pits and bowed. Wow!
Eventually, "Dwight" jumped 7' off each foot in competition, "Duluth" only making 6'8" from the "wrong" side. Me. Well, I never did jump higher than 5'8" and didn't bother to try jumping off my right foot - 4' wouldn't have been very impressive.
Enjoy this story? Be sure to check out the rest of the website where you can purchase my books, "A Golden Era" and "A Long Road Ahead" which tell the stories of the high school and college running careers of a father in the 70s and his son in the 2000s.