Former Russellville pole vaulter recalls school's first state title 50 years ago
It's been 50 years, but Russellville's Charles Jones still has fond memories of playing on the first team in school history to win an official state championship.
Jones was a member of the Golden Tigers track team that defeated UMS-Wright by 11.25 points in the Class A state meet in May 1958. His distance of 11 feet, 10.5 inches in the pole vault tied a state record and also tied him for first place with Wetumpka's Don Callaway. Two of Jones' teammates also competed in pole vault, with Sammy Flippen placing third and Jimmy Martin finishing fourth.
"Back then track meets were held at night and there were only two classifications, Class A and Class AA, and it was before football had playoffs," Jones said. "Our team was gifted that year, and we had five first place finishes that season – our times were competitive with the big AA schools.
"And we had Larry Swindle, one of the best track athletes to come out of Russellville. He was our star, and without him, our team would have been average."
Swindle, who was named the state meet MVP, signed with Auburn after leading Russellville to victory in the Bama Relays and conference, district and state meets during his senior season. Swindle won two individual state titles in the half-mile (2:06.2) and mile (4:37.9) and the mile relay championship (3:39.7) with Carl Russell, Jerry Lindsey and Bobby Willis, who finished first in the shot put with a throw of 44 feet, 4.5 inches.
"Track was a big-time sport when I was in school, and we had 20 or so people on the track team," said Jones, who also lettered in football. "There's an old saying that 'track is good for football but football is bad for track,' but a lot of football players played track."
The Russellville squad, coached by former Russellville mayor and football coach John Blackwell, also included Jerry Daily, Billy Frederick, Jerry Frederick and manager Larry Daily.
"Coach Blackwell was a great coach, and I loved that man. He was really thrilled when we won state," Jones said. "He said it was one of the happiest days of his life."
Jones, who will reunite with his remaining classmates at this fall's 50-year reunion, said most of his track teammates have passed away but he hasn't forgotten them.
"I wanted to do this as a tribute to Coach Blackwell, Larry and all the other guys on the team," Jones said.