Fred Lawler was born in Alabama in 1897 and lived there until he died 72 years later. If he was an athlete he never had a chance to find out because he had to work too hard just to get by. He was never what anybody would call well-off, but he owned his own house and his own piece of land, and although he was uneducated he saw to it that his seven children stayed in school, even during cotton-picking season when other people's children had to work in the fields.
One thing about Fred Lawler, he was always in a hurry. His children remember that he didn't just climb onto the seat of his tractor or into the cab of his truck, he jumped. And when he jumped back down, he hit the ground running.
"Run! Run!" was his constant exhortation.
And run they did. They ran everywhere, and they climbed up and jumped off everything, off treetops, rooftops, barn tops. They were strong, skinny country children who walked four miles to school and back in Gadsden in all weather, and they were natural athletes. The girls—Evelyn, Freddie, Lurene and Sue—played basketball at Carver High School, and Evelyn and Freddie ran track, too. Fred Lawler would drive the track team to meets in his truck, and his wife, Lurene, would accompany her daughters to town for basketball games, taking with her an armload of firewood for the friend she would visit while she waited for them.
Evelyn was the second-oldest girl, and the skinniest. She ran so fast and jumped so high at Carver that she caught the eye of Major Cleve Abbott, the athletic director at Tuskegee Institute, and with his help she became the first in her family to go to college. At Tuskegee, Evelyn Lawler studied to be a physical-education teacher and she ran the hurdles. Also at Tuskegee, Evelyn met and married William McKinley Lewis Jr., from Chicago, a tall, handsome football player, sprinter and long jumper who was studying to be a teacher.
In 1951, the year she graduated, Evelyn made the team that went to the first Pan American Games, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she finished sixth in the 80-meter hurdles.
Today Evelyn and Bill Lewis live and teach high school in Willingboro, N.J., a tidy but otherwise unremarkable suburb 15 miles from Philadelphia. They have been married for almost 30 years and they show every sign of intending to be married for at least 30 more. Obviously theirs is a good match. In the matter of genes, and people are always bringing up the subject of genes with the Lewises, the match was clearly made in heaven. Evelyn and Bill have four children—Mackie, 26, Cleve, 25, Carl, 19, and Carol, 17—and every one is an extraordinary athlete. Mackie was a high school sprinter and long jumper who still holds a county record for the 220. Cleve was an All-New England soccer player at Brandeis and the first American black ever drafted by a pro soccer team, the Cosmos. Ultimately he played two seasons for the Memphis Rogues.
But it is the younger two, Carl and Carol, both long jumpers, who are putting Willingboro on the map. Both of them made the 1980 Olympic team that didn't go to Moscow, and both are such extraordinarily gifted athletes that their coaches, when asked to assess their potential, are often at a loss for words.
"I don't know," says Tom Tellez, the track coach at the University of Houston, where Carl is a sophomore. "I've never had anyone like him."
Which is not to say that Tellez has not coached talented athletes. While he was an assistant at UCLA, he had three outstanding long jumpers, 27-foot-man James McAlister and NCAA champions Jerry Herndon and Finn Bendixen, as well as outstanding triple jumpers Willie Banks, Milan Tiff and James Butts. But Carl Lewis is something else again. Three weeks ago at the UCLA-Pepsi meet in Los Angeles he made the second-longest jump in history, 28'3¾". Because the aiding wind was .02 over the allowable two meters per second, that leap isn't officially recognized, but his jump of 27'9¼" the same day set a U.S. all-comers record. He holds the world indoor record of 27'10¼", which he set at the Southwest Conference championships in Fort Worth on Feb. 20.