Seven years ago, when he was 14, Phil Reavis (see cover) was saddled with one of boyhood's more onerous chores. He had to ride herd on a 4-year-old brother, an occupation which kept him out of the playground baseball games and other team sports. For lack of anything else to do, Reavis repaired to the high-jump pit and practiced high jumping, a sport which allowed him to keep an eye on his small and lively brother.
He was just out of junior high school then, a short (5 feet 5), wiry youngster. Through a long summer of baby-sitting at the high-jump pit, Phil boosted his altitude to 4 feet 8 inches. Now a 21-year-old senior in education at Villanova University, Phil is 5 feet 9� inches, has high-jumped 6 feet 10 inches, and no longer baby-sits, even when he returns to his home in Somerville, Mass. He has probably jumped farther over his own height than any American ever has. "I hear about a Nigerian who jumped 13� inches over his height," Reavis said the other day. "I've done 12� inches and I'm hoping to get the other inch this year."
If he does manage to jump 6 feet 11 (a new world indoor record), which would give him a tie with the Nigerian, Reavis will doubtless do it in competition. He averages an inch or two higher under competitive pressure than he does in his best practice jumps. "The meets bring you along," he said. "The higher the bar gets, the smoother the jumps. When I'm jumping good, I iron out when the bar gets over 6 feet 4."
Reavis is a relaxed competitor, in sharp contrast to many track athletes. "I like to talk to people between jumps," he says. "Gets my mind off it. Then sometimes I watch the other boys jump and analyze their styles. Sometimes you pick up something that helps."
Phil considers his lack of height a psychological advantage in competition. "You take the 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 boys," he says. "They start jumping, usually the bar is not as tall as they are. Then a tall man, when the bar gets over his head, why it's a new thing to him and it bothers him. Me, the bar is always overhead and it doesn't make much difference how far."
Reavis is a quiet, pleasant young man whose upper lip is underlined with a thin, feathery mustache. He hopes to teach history when he is graduated from Villanova in February of 1959 and his competition in track will likely end with his college eligibility. "I may not even jump in the National AAU outdoors unless I'm doing something promising," he said. "I enjoy high jumping, but I don't think I want to keep in shape for another Olympics."
Reavis prefers indoor meets, although his best outdoors is only a half inch under the 6-10 he cleared two years ago indoors.
"I'm light and I have a quick take-off," he explains. "The boards give you a fast lift and I can take advantage of it. You take jumpers like Charley Dumas and Ernie Shelton—they use a long leg swing and their foot stays down so long, they lose that quick reaction. I'm working on a longer leg swing myself, but my style is pretty well set and I don't want to fool with it."
Phil is aiming at 7 feet, an amazing height for a 5-9� jumper.
"I once thought 6 feet 7 would be my maximum," he says. "I got over that barrier, and I don't recognize any other."