In April of 1966, Terry Bradshaw of Shreveport’s Woodlawn High broke the national record in the javelin throw four weeks in a row.
It started with the Bolton Relays at Alexandria, when Bradshaw’s throw of 240 feet, 2 inches broke the record of 232-11 by more than seven feet.
A week later, in the Indian Relays at Fair Park, the javelin was moved to 6 p.m. and held on the infield of the track to allow more spectators to watch the national record-holder perform.
“I shouldn’t have done it,” Bradshaw said later, “but I let the crowd get to me. They changed the time of the finals just for me, and I didn’t want to disappoint the people who had come to see me throw the javelin. I certainly didn’t want anybody to think the record at Alexandria had been a lucky throw. I felt like I had to do something.”
Having trouble with his steps and an aching elbow, Bradshaw threw only twice in the preliminaries. The first one sailed 205 feet, but didn’t count because he stepped over the scratch line. The second was two feet shorter.
Warming up for the finals, he got off two good throws. One was in the vicinity of 250 feet. But his first two official throws in the finals were comparatively feeble 180-footers.
Bradshaw, who had quarterbacked Woodlawn to its first appearance in a state championship football game the previous December and would later quarterback the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories, was facing fourth-and-long.
His last throw was 243 feet, 7 inches — more than three feet better than his week-old record.
A week later, he set a national record for consistency in the Bossier High Invitational. His best throw was “only” 239 feet, but he had four other throws of more than 235 feet. He had broken the listed national record three weeks in a row, with six legal throws well over the record.
History repeated itself 36 years later when another javelin thrower from Northwest Louisiana was ranked No. 1 in the nation. But that time, it was a girl — Benton’s Rachel Walker.
Like Bradshaw, she broke the composite state meet record on her final attempt in her final state meet. (In Bradshaw’s case, it was his only attempt in his final state meet.) But Walker, who had won her first state title as an eighth grader, later won the javelin event in the 2004 Golden West Invitational in California, and returned to California a few weeks later to take second place (behind Lindsey Johnson of Brigham Young University) in the Junior National Championships, earning a berth on the United States team competing in the World Junior Games in Jamaica.
In boys’ competition, Joe Cage of Neville (Monroe) was the first Louisiana athlete to break the 200-foot barrier in 1958. At that time, only two Louisiana athletes had come within 12 feet of 180 feet. Byrd’s Pat Creegan had a throw of 197-6 in 1941 and Ray Rocker of Jesuit (New Orleans) broke his record with 198-11 in 1950.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association didn’t add the javelin to the girls’ track and field until 1994. A year later, Erica Schneider of St. Bernard became the first Louisiana girl to break the 140-foot barrier in high school competition. Lefthanded Michelle Gordon of Jennings got off a throw of 150 feet, 4 inches in 1997, when Walker was a seventh grader. But the unofficial state record was 158 feet, by Lurline Hamilton of St. Joseph’s (Baton Rouge) in an AAU meet in 1963, before Walker broke the 160-foot barrier in 2001.
Jerry Byrd is the former sports editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune and an award-winning columnist. You can contact him by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org