REMEMBERING JIMMY UPTON

From John Agan's Echoes of our Past

Friday, March 28, 2003 - Minden Press-Herald

Jimmy Upton

 Last week saw the death of one of the handful of athletes who earned All-American honors while performing for Minden High School. Jimmy Upton, son of Mary Ellen Upton and the late Horace Upton, Jimmy Upton was the most outstanding of the many star athletes who competed for the Minden High School track team during its “Golden Era” of the 1960s and 1970s. During a 15-year period the Tide won a dozen district championships in a row, highlighted by three consecutive state championships in 1964, 1965 and 1966. The first of these was won under the leadership of Coach Steve Jordan, while the last two championship squads were under the tutelage of Coach Bill Huth.  Upton joined the varsity track team as a sophomore for the 1965 season, played a key role on the 1966 championship team but enjoyed his greatest personal success during his senior season of 1967. Today’s Echo of our Past will be a remembrance and a tribute to Minden’s champion hurdler, Jimmy Upton.

 Although Minden High School had always been blessed with outstanding athletes, track and field was not a major sporting event at the local school until the 1950s. During those years a track was constructed at the school under the leadership of Principal W. W. Williams. Yet even though the Minden program began to develop in those years, it still lagged behind the other athletic programs at the school. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Tide won its first district track championship under Steve Jordan. Two years later, in the spring of 1964 MHS was blessed with the stellar group of athletes that had led the Tide football team to an undefeated state championship season the previous fall. For the first time it seemed possible that the school might compete for a state championship in track and field to go along with the four football, two basketball and one baseball championship earned by the boys teams and the numerous swimming titles won by the Tide girls. Indeed, 1964 did see Minden win a state track championship for Class AA. Jimmy Upton was a freshman that year, and while he was a consistent performer on the freshman track team, there was little indication of the star he would become.

                                                                CHANGING OF THE GUARD

 By the time the 1965 track season rolled around, Coach Jordan had left MHS and the new coach, Bill Huth, inherited the task of attempting to duplicate Jordan’s success. Early in the season, while some of the older members of the team were still competing with the MHS basketball squad Upton was given the opportunity to participate on the 440 yard, 880 yard, and Mile relay teams, along with running the 120 yd. High hurdles, the race that would become one of his specialties. In the Tide’s first outdoor meet of the season, Upton gave a brief glimpse of the excellence to come when he won the 120 hurdles in a time of 15.9, beating his senior teammate, Mike Holliday. However, by the middle of the season, Upton gave up his place on the relay teams and competed only in the hurdles. He never again broke the 16-second barrier in the 120 hurdles, far from the potential demonstrated by his early season time. He was not even among the 16 Tide tracksters who qualified for the Regional meet by placing first or second in district competition. At the district meet, Jimmy ran the 120 hurdles in a time of 16.4 seconds, coming in third. The Tide went on to earn the regional and the state championships. The victory at the state meet over Cathedral High School of Lafayette was sparked by victories in the all-important 880 yd and Mile Relays.

                                                                     A NEW SEASON ARRIVES

As the 1966 track season began, the Crimson Tide was the overwhelming favorite to repeat their state championship.  Led by seniors Jerome Vascocu, Ronnie Pope, Jimmy Roberts, Dolan Cooper and Wayne Deloney, the Tide seemed too strong for their AA competition and indeed often challenged the AAA powers out of Shreveport such as Woodrow Turner’s Byrd teams. In those years Minden traditionally opened its track season by competing at the high school indoor meet hosted by Northwestern State College. Competing in the 60-yard hurdles, Upton came in 4th place at the Northwestern competition while the highlight of the meet for Minden was a 30-yard victory over Byrd in the 16-lap relay. Minden next moved to the Martin Relays in Carthage, Texas. Jimmy won the 120-yard hurdles in a meet record time of 15.4 seconds and ran a leg on the Tide 440 yd. relay team that placed 2nd. Over the next few weeks the Tide began facing the stiffer competition of the Shreveport AAA schools and victories were harder to achieve. Upton lowered his personal bests in the 120 hurdles to 14.8 seconds and his time in the 180 yard low hurdles to 20.6 seconds but had only a 3rd place finish at the Shreveport Relays and 2nd in a dual meet against Byrd to show for the two records, respectively. The 880-yard relay team of Vascocu, Upton, Mike McKinney and Pope shattered the previous meet record at the Shreveport relays, but still came in 2nd to the Byrd Yellow Jacket squad in the race.

                                                                     A DOMINATING PERFORMANCE

Stepping back down to face AA competition proved easier as the Tide took part in a meet with other AA schools at North Caddo. The Minden team won an easy victory in the total points while Jimmy Upton won or shared in four first places. He won the 120 and 180-yard hurdles and ran legs on the Tide’s winning 440 and 880-yard relay teams. While the times were not spectacular, as they reflected the level of the competition, Upton was beginning to display the signs of a winner. The next week Minden produced another outstanding performance coming in 2nd at the Fair Park Relays to the Woodlawn Knights. Upton set a personal best in the 180 yd low hurdles with a time of 19.5, which tied the meet record. Unfortunately, he lost to Wayne Williams of Fair Park who set a new record of 19.4 in the same race. Jimmy also ran a 14.9 time in the 120 yard hurdles but only earned a 3rd place for his effort. He also took part on the 2nd place 880-yard relay team and the 4th place 440-yard relay team. Minden’s effort that day was of course overshadowed by the achievement of a Woodlawn football player named Terry Bradshaw who managed to set a national high school record by throwing the javelin over 243 feet.

                                                                                    OUTSTANDING

The next day, running in a postponed meet at Haughton, Jimmy Upton won his first award for Outstanding Track Man at a high school meet. He won both hurdle races and also ran legs on two winning relay teams. Again the times were not impressive, but that was in fact part of Coach Huth’s strategy, to run to win, rather than risk injury by overextending against lesser competition. By this time of his junior season, Upton was beginning to come into his own as a runner. The Tide next faced more quality competition in a triangular meet at Neville including the host Tigers and the Bolton Bears of Alexandria. Upton again won honors as Outstanding Track Man at this meet, tying the meet record with a time of 19.5 in the low hurdles and smashing the mark in the 120 hurdles by finishing in 14.7 seconds, in addition to his relay duties. The next week at Bastrop, he won both hurdle races and ran on two winning relay teams, including the school-record setting 440-yard relay team. Running next in the Northwestern outdoor relays, the Tide romped to a victory in the AA division and Jimmy again won both hurdles and on a meet-record setting 880 yard relay team.

Back home for the Tide Relays Upton won both relays, extending his winning streak in the hurdles to ten races while smashing the meet record in the 120-yard hurdles by more than a second with his time of 14.5. He also took part on Minden’s winning 440-yard and 880-yard relay teams. The Tiders were coming off some of their best performances of the season headed for the District Championship Meet.

                                                                                 ADDITIONAL ACCOLADES

In that meet Minden won first place in District 1-AA by a total of 146 points to a mere 63 for runner-up Springhill. Jimmy Upton won first places running on the 440-yard relay team which set a district record with its time of 43.7 seconds; the 880-yard relay team which set a new school and district record time of 1:29.3; the 120-yard high hurdles in a new record time of 14.6; and the 180-yard low hurdles with a time of 20.5 seconds. The next week, Minden romped to a regional championship by 18 points over Leesville, despite a dropped handoff that disqualified the 440-yard relay team. Upton ran on the record setting 880-yard relay team that finished in 1:29.7 and individually won the 120-yard high hurdles in a time of 14.85 and the 180-yard low hurdles in a record time of 19.7. Minden won every running event at the regional meet and Upton extended his winning streak in individual hurdle races to 14. That streak ended the next week as Minden won its third consecutive state championship by an unprecedented 14 points over Hahnville as the locals won first place in both the 880 and the Mile Relays and had individual first-place winners Dolan Cooper in the Mile Run and Ronnie Pope in the 440-yard dash. Upton ran a leg on the winning 880-yard relay team, ran a personal best in the 180 yard low hurdles with a time of 19.4, but losing in a photo-finish and also came in third in the 120 yard hurdles with an excellent time of 14.6 seconds.

                                                                                    SENIOR YEAR DAWNS

Moving into his senior year at MHS in 1967, Jimmy Upton was clearly the feature attraction of the MHS athletic program. Although the Tide expected to be competitive, the losses of Jerome Vascocu, Wayne Deloney, Dolan Cooper, Mark Jones, Larry Brewer, Jeff Jenkins, Ronnie Chandler, and Jimmy Roberts from the squad indicated a 4th straight state championship might be too much to expect. However, from the outset of the season it was clear that Jimmy Upton had become a very special track athlete. Coming off a season in which he earned All-District and All-State honors, Upton let it be known at the first meet of the season, the Northwestern Indoor Meet, that he was only getting better. He shattered the meet record in the 60-yard high hurdles in a time of 7.3 seconds. Next at the Martin Relays in Carthage, Upton broke the meet record in the 120-yard high hurdles, won in an unfamiliar event, the 330-yard intermediate hurdles (not run in Louisiana at that time) and anchored the winning Mile Relay team. He also ran on the other two relay teams throughout the 1967 season. At the Shreveport Relays, Jimmy was named the Outstanding Track Man while setting meet and personal records in the 180-yard hurdles, with a time of 19.0 and the 120-yard high hurdles, finishing in 14.2 in addition to anchoring three relay squads that placed. A new event was added to his repertoire at the Minden Triangular meet where he won his usual first in the 120-yard hurdles but added a victory in the 220-yard dash to go with first places in two of the three relays.

                                                                                     MAKING THE ROUNDS

At the Fair Park relays, Jimmy again won both hurdle races in record times and then repeated the feat at Haughton, where he was again named Outstanding Track Man for his performance. The Tide next traveled to Lafayette to compete in the AA division of the Southwestern Relays. Upton won both the hurdles races and came in a surprising 4th in another new race, the 100-yard dash.  The record pace continued to the Tide Relays, where he was again named Outstanding Track Man for setting new records in the 120-yard hurdles and the 220-yard dash, while skipping the 180-yard hurdles. At Woodlawn, Jimmy won both hurdle races with a new record time of 14.2 seconds in the 120-yard race. The next week, Minden seemed to have ended its streak of district championships when Jonesboro-Hodge earned a point victory over Minden; however, later disqualifications for the Jackson Parish Tigers awarded the championship to Minden, as the Tide streak of winning district would extend well into the 1970s. Despite the team’s problems, Jimmy Upton continued his magical season. He won both hurdle races and anchored a winning 880-yard relay team for Minden.

                                                                                      ON TO REGIONALS

His success continued the next week at the regional meet where he remained unbeaten for the season in the hurdles and also anchored both the 880 and Mile Relay teams to regional championships. Jimmy’s last meet as a Crimson Tide athlete was the 1967 state championships and he saved the best for last. At that state meet he ran the 120-yard high hurdles in a personal and state record time of 13.8 seconds, breaking the record for all classes in the event. In the 180-yard low hurdles he streaked to a victory in a time of 18.8 seconds tying the state record. And in the last race of his Minden career, anchored the Tide Mile Relay team home in a state record time of 3:22.8, demolishing the previous record of 3:26.1, held by DeRidder. Despite his efforts, the Tide only finished 3rd in the state competition, ending the championship streak.

                                                                                    AFTER MINDEN HIGH

Following a senior season that saw him earn All-State and All-District honors, be named the Outstanding Track Man in four meets and go undefeated in 21 hurdles races, even bigger honors came to the local athlete. Invited to participate in the invitation only Prepstacular Meet at Alexandria, Jimmy ran the 180 hurdles in a winning time of 18.6 seconds, came in 2nd to the Arkansas state champion in the 120 hurdles with a time of 13.9 and ran on two winning relay teams. He moved on to the New Orleans Meet of Champions, where he won the hurdle races and was once again named Outstanding Track Man. Next his sights moved to a national level as he competed in the National Jaycee Track Meet and the prestigious Golden West Relays in San Francisco, California, where he finished in 4th place in the 120 yard hurdles in what was considered the most competitive high school track meet in the country. He capped his high school career by being named an All-American in high school track.

Following graduation from MHS, Jimmy signed with the track program at Northeast Louisiana State College (today the University of Louisiana at Monroe) led by legendary coach Bob Gresclose. At the college level, Jimmy was shifted to the longer hurdle race, the 440 yard or 400 meter hurdles. His talent came through at this level also as in 1972, he repeated his high school feat by being named an NCAA All-American, a feat duplicated by no other former MHS athlete except James Britt, the LSU football All-American. Some of his records still stand at ULM and he was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Graduate N Club in 1998. He was also inducted into the Ark-La-Tex Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.

So now you know a little bit more about a speeding Echo of Our Past, who left us last week, Jimmy Upton. 

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''  I read about something coming about Jimmy Upton. I have some more detailed information about Jimmy sent to me from various sources. If anyone is interested please ask them to contact me. (e-mail mindenmemories@aol.com and I will forward your message to Dr. Carey).   Thanks, Tom

 

Picture  of Jimmy Upton from the M.H.S. Grig

Submitted by Greg Grambling

James Upton

Jimmy Upton  8-6-1949 to 3-17-2003

According to Dr. T. D. Carey he was the greatest track athlete to have ever run at Minden High School. This information came from a gentleman who was an official of the Golden West Relays held in California, in 1967.

Stanley Sanders remembers when he competed in the 200 yard dash in 1967. If any of you have any information we would like to put it on the Minden Memories web site.

He did run the 180 yard low hurdle. He was fourth in the 18.8. The race was run on a turn and the winner, Bill Tipton set a new national record of 18.3. Jimmy's mark was the equal fourth fastest ever run for the race on a turn. Incidentally, the runners wereaided with a legal 3.74 mph wind the maximum allowable was 4.473 mph.

Services for James Saunders "Jimmy" Upton, was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Upton and was a native and resident of Minden. He died on March 17th, in Minden when he was 53.

He was a safety director for Tango Trucking Company. He was a member of the Alumni Associationat Northeast University and a USTFF all American hurdler in 1971. He also had the second best time ever atNortheast University in the Intermediate Hurdles.

He was preceded in death by his father, Horace Upton. He was survived by his son, Tim Upton and hiswife Patricia of New Orleans; daughter, Allison Upton Cooper and husband Brett of Jena; mother, MaryUpton of Minden; sister, Ellen Madden of Bossier City; one grandchild.

Services were at Rose Neath Funeral Home in Minden with the Rev. Joe Hunter officiating. He is buried in an unmarked grave next to his Dad in Section F H-2 in the Minden City Cemetery.Rufus H. Upton 4 Aug. 1924 - 22 Jul. 1983,Capt. U S Army WW II son of Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Upton. & graduated from Haughton High School.

Our thanks go to Rowland Ivy, Mrs. Mary Ellen Upton and John Agan, Dr. T. D. Carey and Greg Grambling for the information & pictures we have received on Jimmy Upton.