- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Yes, it is," said the recruiter.
"Well, uh ... did you know that Jeremy Wariner is predominantly white?"
Pause. "No ... but ... but that's O.K.," the coach delicately replied.
Even Michael Ford--the African-American assistant track coach at Baylor who had seen Jeremy run and had begun wooing him to the university in Waco, just an hour and a half away from Arlington--assumed that his quarry was biracial.
The quarterback on Jeremy's team had trouble throwing the ball as far as Jeremy could run a 41/2-second route, but Jeremy was probably too thin to be a Division I wide receiver anyway. He still had Friday-night lights in his eyes, though, so he didn't jump at the track offers pouring in. He made an oral commitment to Baylor when it offered him a football scholarship, then despaired when the coach at the time, Kevin Steele, realized he had made too many scholarship offers and yanked Jeremy's.
By then a white-haired man had shown up at his door. He was genuine--dignified and funny too. He was also the maestro of the 200 and 400 meters, the finest long-sprint coach in the world, the man who'd mentored Michael Johnson: Baylor head track coach Clyde Hart. Jeremy swallowed his football disappointment, chose Baylor anyway and whittled his two dreams down to one. "I want to run in the Olympics," he told Coach Hart.
Hart looked at the rail-thin white kid, 6'1" and 145 pounds. A half-century earlier Hart had been the 100-yard-dash champion of Arkansas. Forbidden by segregation to compete in an official meet with the state's black champ--a guy everybody called Cornelius Mitchell, who years later would become the first African-American signed by the Washington Redskins, a future Hall of Fame flanker known as Bobby Mitchell--the two boys from Hot Springs met on a track that had gone to seed and went head-to-head in a series of informal races. The kids watching laid bets. Hart beat Mitchell every time.
"Sure," Coach Hart told Jeremy. "We'll make the Olympics a goal." He was a patient man who believed in building a 400-meter sprinter's strength and endurance slowly, the way he had with Johnson, whose shiniest days came well after his Baylor years. "We'll aim for 2008."
RE: Why is it A BIG DEAL that Jeremy Wariner is white?