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Act I: The AAU Indoor track championships in New York a year ago. and high-jumping kingpin Dwight Stones is trying to organize a boycott of the meet. He has talked to all the high jumpers except one, and he is hollering, "Where is Jacob Franklin? Who is Jacob Franklin?"
Act II: A Miami magazine contacts Fairleigh Dickinson University. The magazine likes to do stories on good Jewish athletes and therefore would obviously be interested in an article on a student named Franklin Jacobs.
Act III: Franklin Jacobs is sloshing toward Mama Rosa's Pizzeria in Rutherford, N.J., fantasizing about how good a meal of spaghetti, Coke and Fleetwood Mac will be. People pass on the sidewalk and one says, "Hey, hiya, Jenkins." Jacobs-Franklin-Jenkins mutters. "That was close."
These are but a few of the many incongruities in the suddenly star-struck life of the 20-year-old from Paterson, N.J. who as recently as a year ago seemed a likely candidate for little more than a life of, say, moving furniture around in a Newark warehouse. Two years ago at this time he hadn't even seen a high-jump bar. Now, Franklin Jacobs—got it? Franklin Jacobs —says, "I've never reached a height I'm uncomfortable at." Which is bad news for other high jumpers, including Stones.
Last month in Maryland, jumping for the first time this indoor season, Jacobs cleared 7'6" as if it were an insignificant snowdrift outside Mama Rosa's; two days earlier he had been on crutches with chronic knee trouble. A fortnight ago, before the Millrose Games in New York. Jacobs was jittery. " Madison Square Garden is one very big word," he said, temporarily losing count. "When you jump there, man, you're jumpin'." And he did. This bundle of nerves, the human spring with sweaty hands, cleared 7'7�' for a world indoor record. He beat, among others—glory be!—Stones. The outdoor world record, held by Vladimir Yashchenko of the U.S.S.R., is 7'7�". Does Jacobs expect to break it? Next question.
Somewhere, Walter Mitty is on his feet applauding Franklin Jacobs and booing Randy Newman, who is making big bucks singing, "Short people got no reason to live." True, Franklin might have wondered at times what he had to live for when he was growing up in a poor household along with 10 brothers and sisters and four cousins. More important than anything, Jacobs is too short to high-jump. Everybody knows high jumpers are all 6'4", six feet of which are their legs.
But how short is Jacobs? Well, not long ago at Fairleigh Dickinson, which is in Rutherford, N.J., he passed a medical clinic where they were measuring people's heights. He got in line and the nurse said. "Five feet, eight inches." Franklin went through the line two more times and the nurse finally said. "You're still five-eight. I don't think you are going to grow any more this afternoon."
But Jacobs thinks he's taller. Why else would he persist in ducking his head when he walks through doorways, just like the big boys? Anyway, the good news is that Jacobs may be growing just a mite. Backed up against the yellow wall in his dorm room, standing tall but with no shoes and no cheating, Jacobs is gaining on 5'9". More than anything, Jacobs thinks lofty thoughts.
Still, it defies reason and gravity to explain how he jumps so high. "Natural ability." says Jacobs. "But I wonder how I got natural ability?" No one knows, but because of it, he also holds the world record for inches jumped above one's own height: 23� "Franklin was more friskier than all my other kids," says Jannie Jacobs, "but he ain't ever been no size. He walked when he was seven months old, which is pretty early. But he was so little, he just looked plumb ridiculous. People would come by to watch him 'cause he looked so funny. But Franklin, he done caught on that he was the star. Then he wouldn't walk until people give him a penny or a nickel. Then away he'd go, and everybody would fall down laughing."
Nobody is falling down laughing anymore. Part of the reason Stones was hollering for Jacob Franklin in Act I was that the AAU had messed up the name in the program; the AAU now knows better—and so does Stones. In fact, Stones now has a bad case of the grumbles when it comes to Jacobs. The Miami magazine in Act II understands more about Jacobs now, thanks to an explanation from Jay Horwitz. Fairleigh Dickinson's sports-information director, that "We would love for you to do a story on our Jewish star, Franklin Jacobs, but I am sad to report he is not of the faith." And people who think his name is Jenkins in Act III surely must be straightened out by now.