Part IX in a series counting down the 10 most memorable performances in the history of Tommy Oliver Stadium
Houston McTear jumped the gun.
The teenaged sprinting sensation from Baker High School was facing a stiff challenge in the Invitational 100-yard dash of the fourth annual North Florida Relays.
Among the field was Harvey Glance from Phenix City, Ala., like McTear a future Olympian. Kaseen Thomas of Mobile Murphy was highly regarded, as was Frank Mordico of Tallahassee Godby.
And McTear had a false start prior to the most historic race in the legacy of county track and field.
“I just knew of the people in the Southeast and what they could run and invited them,” said Garry Terrell, a former SEC 880 champion who took over Bay’s track and field program in 1970. Shortly thereafter, Terrell organized the North Florida Relays to help showcase the sport here.
“Back then the biggest meet was the Kiwanis Invitational in Tallahassee, the Escambia Relays and later on Fort Walton Beach,” Terrell recalled.
The community responded upon discovering the appearance of McTear, who already was a two-time state sprint champion. Although only a junior in high school, he had won the 60 meters less than a month prior in the USA-USSR meet.
The crowd at Tommy Oliver Stadium was estimated at 3,000.
“I remember it was one of the biggest we ever had for a track meet,” Terrell said in an understatement. “The press box side of the stands was full. The track was surrounded. People were standing outside the fence trying to see in.”
McTear jumped the gun, and after the false start couldn’t afford a similar occurrence or he would be disqualified. He got out of the blocks last in the restart.
It didn’t prevent him from running down the field and finishing first in a time of 9.4 seconds, back when the world record was 9.1 for 100 yards. Thomas was second in 9.5, Mack Green of Albany Dougherty third in 9.6 and Glance fourth, also timed in 9.6.
“I got a good lift the last 15 yards,” Thomas said. “I would have beaten him if it had been the 220-yard dash.”
When told about that remark, McTear replied, “I doubt it.”
Glance, who would beat McTear in the 100-meter finals at the U.S. Trials 16 months later, knew he was out of it early.
“I stuck one of my spikes and straightened up about 30 yards out,” he said.
“I knew I had lost the race right there.”
McTear’s high school coach Will Willoughby estimated that his star pupil would have gone 9.3, maybe even 9.2 if not hindered by the specter of a second false start.
While that was pure conjecture, Willoughby was prophetic in other remarks to The News Herald.
“There isn’t a high school runner who can beat him,” Willoughby said. “He’s got a God-given talent and he’s gotten stronger after last year. … He’s going to run 9.1 some day.”
Later that spring, McTear did just that in the prelims before reclaiming his state title.
McTear eventually finished second to Glance in the U.S. Trials prior to the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, but a hamstring injury prevented him from competing. Glance went on to win a gold medal in the men’s 4X100 relay.
Next: No. 1, a perfect storm.