May 18, 2012
This feature appeared in the Friday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
Through the years Kansas State has earned the distinction of “High Jump U.”
And, rightfully so.
Just in head coach Cliff Rovelto’s coaching era alone, the Wildcat track program has produced two Olympians – Ed Broxterman, 1996 and Nathan Leeper, 2000), plus World Championship participants in Itai Margalit (1993 and 1995), Leeper (2001) and Kyle Lancaster (2005).
“When you think of the No. 1 high jump coach in the nation, coach Rovelto’s name comes up early in the conversation,” said Jim Becker of USA Track and Field. “He is highly respected world-wide.”
When it comes to All-Americans, Rovelto has tutored 13 ‘jump’ honorees dating back to his first season in 1993. That roll call includes: Percell Gaskins (1993), Itai Margalit (1996), Nathan Leeper (1998), Charles Burney (1999), Kyle Lancaster (2004, 2005 and 206), Scott Sellers (2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009) and Erik Kynard (2010, 2011). He has also helped train four athletes who have won a combined six NCAA indoor and outdoor high jump titles, including last year’s outdoor champion Erik Kynard.
This year, Kynard will enter the 2012 NCAA Championships as the No. 1 ranked jumper in the nation.
While these are the jumpers of the modern era, who are clearing up to 7-foot, 5-inches, on up to 7-7, laying claim to be K-State’s first 7-foot jumper is Ray McGill, who competed for the Wildcats in 1969 and 1970, when he was an All-American.
“The event has changed so much because of how they flop today,” said McGill, who attended last Saturday night’s track alumni picnic. Laughing, he added, “I was the last of the rollers.”
A product of Bakersfield, Calif., McGill first attended Bakersfield Community College where his coach, who was a Kansas graduate, was an acquaintance of then Wildcat track coach and current Texas’ athletics director DeLoss Dodds.
“I remember DeLoss brought me out here for a recruiting visit when K-State was playing Kansas in basketball,” said McGill, who now lives in Tulsa, Okla., where he teaches driver’s education. “The thing I remember most was how cold it was. But I also remember the enthusiasm. I really liked how the student body rallied around its team. I knew I wanted to be a part of that.”
A 6-11 high jumper in junior college, McGill improved to 7-1 at K-State for a personal best. In Big Eight competition, he won the 1969 title by clearing 6-10 and the 1970 title with a clearance of 6-11¼.
K-State’s next outdoor high jump winner came in 1988 when Brad Speer cleared 7-1½.
Indoors, McGill won the 1969 crown at 6-10 and the 1970 crown at 7-1.
The next time, K-State had a Big Eight Indoor high jump champion was two decades later when R.D. Cogswell cleared 7-2½ in 1992.
“The Fosbury Flop (named for Dick Fosbury, 1968 high jump champion at the Mexico Olympics) was just being introduced at the time, but I was the last of the rollers,” said McGill. “Oregon State was recruiting me at the time and they were going to have me flop, but when I came here they just tried to get me better at what I already knew how to do.”
Four years later at the Munich Olympics, 28 of the 40 high jump competitors were using the Fosbury technique of going over the bar backwards. Of the 36 Olympic medalists from 1972 through 2000, 34 used the Fosbury technique.
“I messed with it, but was never comfortable,” said McGill.
Following his graduation from K-State in 1970, McGill moved to Tulsa to begin a teaching and coaching career at the high school level.
“I had worked some of coach (Jack) Hartman’s basketball camps,” reflected McGill. “Being from Oklahoma, he always brought up high school coaches from Oklahoma to work the camp. That gave me a chance to develop some friendships, who ended up getting me started in my teaching career.”