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A Man of Bars And Measures
Ralph Wiley
June 15, 1987
Although Doug Nordquist is the country's No. 2 high jumper, his heart really belongs to the high school band he directs
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June 15, 1987

A Man Of Bars And Measures

Although Doug Nordquist is the country's No. 2 high jumper, his heart really belongs to the high school band he directs

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Doug Nordquist Dons white gloves, steps up to the stage of the Whittier (Calif.) High auditorium and begins to lead the assembled high school bands of the district in a spirited rendition of Seventy-six Trombones.

This is the most important practice of Nordquist's day. He is the band director at nearby Sante Fe High, and he clearly enjoys his work. There is a spring to his step. The music carries him along. Nordquist is in his element. He asks the band to "bring the flutes up a little more." He speaks to them of bars and measures.

Nordquist, 28, is wearing sneakers and worn jeans. None of this seems out of place until you notice that the cuffs of the jeans stop well above Nordquist's ankles. He lacks either a sense of fashion or pants with a 38-inch inseam.

Rehearsal ends and the teenage musicians begin to scatter into suburbia individually and by groups, some brapping short improvisations on their horns and reeds. "Band kids are a lot like athletes," says Nordquist. "The psychological qualities—clannish, arrogant, untrusting. For band kids, just as for athletes, there comes a time when it's 90 percent mental."

He was a band kid, too. In fact he was a drum major at Washington State in 1981 and '82, a period he still celebrates with a license plate on his pickup that reads WSU BAND. NOW he teaches music to band kids. It all seems to fit nicely—except for that 38-inch inseam.

"I've never been able to give all of myself to the other thing," Nordquist says, mysteriously. "I'm afraid to devote myself to it. I've done pretty well teaching."

The other thing. He speaks of it as though he were engaged in an illicit activity. What could it be? At 6'4" and even wearing a peach-colored warmup, Nordquist resembles nothing so much as the band kid he once was, save for creeping male-pattern baldness. In his "other life" Nordquist remains concerned with bars and measures and rests in between. But the bars in question are above a high jump pit, and the measures have challenged the American record.

Nordquist is the defending TAC champion and the No. 2-ranked high jumper in the U.S. behind American record holder Jimmy Howard. But with his victory in the high jump at last year's Goodwill Games in Moscow and his record in the three years since he placed fifth at the LA. Olympics, there's no question he is the No. 1-ranked high jumper-band director in the world.

You have to look closely to understand an athlete like Nordquist, if indeed an athlete he can truly be called. What else do you call someone who can jump over a bar more than 7½ feet in the air? How high can one go on exuberance, optimism and a 38-inch inseam?

It's not unusual for suspicious security guards to stop Nordquist as he makes his way into an arena for meets. "You sure you're a competitor?" the guard will ask. Nordquist usually just smiles and shows his number, then goes over to the high jump pit, where he renews acquaintances and carefully measures off his 10-step runup as carefully as he marks up a music score. It's also not unusual for him to win the event.

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