How Altus alum Jerry King became an OU legend


By Rick Carpenter - rick@altustimes.com



When my University of Oklahoma former track teammates gather, we often talk about everything from specific races to how one teammate, Randy Wilson, made the 1980 Olympic team but didn’t get to go because President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

But eventually, we always get around to the legend of Jerry King or JK as we called him. Jerry might not even know that the performance he had in the Big 8 Track Meet in Norman in 1975 vaulted him into legendary status among his former teammates.

Jerry King holds the school record at Altus High School for the long jump at 25-feet, 2 inches, set in 1974. As a freshman at OU, he wasn’t expected to contribute much but Head Coach J.D. Martin knew he was an investment in the future and obviously saw his potential. Four years of maturity and development within a strong program can substantially increase an athlete’s performance level.

But Jerry King left school between fall and spring semesters of his sophomore year and his teammates have wondered for more than 40 years what happened to him — especially after a performance like he had in the Big 8 Track Meet. His potential seemed limitless.

The Big 8 Track Meet was in Norman in May 1975. On JK’s last jump in the long jump, which included a very talented field, he soared 25-feet, 7.5 inches and either won the event or finished in the top three, none of us can remember. We just remember watching him explode on that jump and excite the home crowd with a phenomenal jump. To put that jump in perspective, his jump would have finished in the top 10 at the 1976 Olympics, a little more than a year later.

But what made him legendary wasn’t the long jump. It was the mile relay, what has now been converted to metrics and called the 4 X 400 meters.

When one of our quarter-milers pulled up lame, coach Martin started looking down his list of possible replacements and how many races they had run, etc. Somehow, he landed on Jerry King’s name.

Since the meet was at OU and our athletic dorm was just a few hundred yards from the track facility, JK had gone to relax in his dorm room, thinking his day was over. After all, he’d already launched a season-best long jump that put OU in contention to win the meet.

As the story goes, JK’s roommate, Larry Butler, had the grim task of finding and informing JK that he was needed for the mile relay.

JK looked up at Butler and said, “I can’t run no quarter-mile,” which is regarded as one of the most difficult distances in track and field.

But Butler convinced him he needed to get back to the track and get ready to run the relay.

Without even warming up again — I’m sure he was still loose from his previous events that included the long jump and triple jump — JK was still standing in the infield with Butler during the early legs of the relay.

Then, Butler looked at JK and said something like this, “JK, you’re the next runner and the one before you is at the 300-meter mark. You’d better take your sweats off and get ready to take the baton.”

JK looked at him and kept repeating, “I can’t run no quarter-mile.” But he got on the track in time and took the baton.

Did I mention that JK was a real competitor?

Turns out, he could run a quarter-mile — in 46 seconds, no less — a time some of our best quarter-milers couldn’t run. This freshman long-jump sensation took the baton and moved us from a tight race for second or third into a virtual tie for first with our best runner, Randy Wilson, the Olympian who I mentioned earlier, taking the baton and moving us into the lead.

JK became a legend in his teammates’ minds but that was about the last time we saw him perform. After the fall semester of his sophomore year, he left school and we’ve never heard from him again. Coach Martin, who I contacted to verify some of the times and distances for this column, said that JK holds the record at the University of Central Oklahoma where Martin now coaches women’s cross country. He said he thinks he transferred there after leaving OU.

Ever since I took over editor and publisher of the Altus Times in October, I’ve been asking people in the community if they know what happened to Jerry King. I’ve heard he lives in Denver and I’ve heard he comes back often to Altus where he was a star athlete in multiple sports in high school. But that’s all I’ve heard and I don’t know if any of it is correct.

I’m trying to make contact with him because I doubt he even knows that he has become a legend to his former teammates. And since it’s Christmas on Monday, I’m hoping he might be stopping through here this week. If you see him, tell him to come see an old teammate.

Rick Carpenter is the editor and publisher of The Altus Times and can be reached by email at rick@altustimes.com or by calling his direct line, (580) 379-0545.

By Rick Carpenter

rick@altustimes.com

Rick Carpenter is the editor and publisher of The Altus Times and can be reached by email at rick@altustimes.com or by calling his direct line, (580) 379-0545.

Rick Carpenter is the editor and publisher of The Altus Times and can be reached by email at rick@altustimes.com or by calling his direct line, (580) 379-0545.

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