Casey Carrigan. A name that belongs up there along with Kirk Douglas and Aldo Ray on a marquee billing a war movie. But for the moment, Casey Carrigan has other things on his mind. He turned 18 last February and he's trying to decide whether to go to Stanford or UCLA. For almost two years now they've been after the kid from Orting, Wash., the very best pole vaulter in high school history. And last Saturday night in the Golden West Invitational in Sacramento, Casey Carrigan sharpened the demand. He vaulted 17'4¾".
Yes, this is the same Carrigan kid who last September did 17 feet in the final Olympic Trials at South Lake Ta-hoe and a month later found himself on the way to Mexico City with a red and white USA on his sweats. That was, he says, his greatest thrill—but it led to his greatest disappointment. After missing twice at 16'1" in the Olympics, Carrigan went well over the crossbar on his third try, only to have his pole follow him under the bar and nullify the effort. "It hurt. It hurt real bad, going out like that," Carrigan says. "But still, it taught me a lot. It did me a lot of good. I learned to face up to things."
The thing that California's supposedly red-hot track fans refuse to face up to, however, is that the Golden West Invitational isn't just another all-star high school meet. Indeed, with 16 former participants competing in Mexico City, the Golden West has obviously become a showcase for budding Olympic, college and professional athletes. Tommie Smith ran in the Golden West, and so did Jim Hines, Charlie Greene and Jim Ryun. Mel Renfro of the Dallas Cowboys and Earl McCullouch of the Detroit Lions hurdled in the meet, and Bob Beamon jumped in it. "This meet means everything to a high school kid," said Brian McElroy, a Massapequa, N.Y. senior who won the 880 in 1:49.8. "This is the one the studs win. The people? Who cares about the people? I came out here to run, not show off. You can show off on a dance floor."
Started in Los Angeles 10 years ago by a bunch of track buffs who call themselves the Golden West Track and Field Association, the meet drew so few fans that it soon found itself on its way to Sacramento. There it continued to sink slowly in the West until, out $8,000 in the spring of 1967, the Golden Westers burst into a meeting of the Active 20-30 Club. For years, the Active 20-30 had done a lot of nice things around town, like helping build parks and playgrounds in depressed areas, but ever since they had given up the soapbox derby the members had felt guilty about the clause in their bylaws that encourages "service to youth."
June 22, 1969
As a result, the two groups joined forces, and while the Golden Westers handled the selection and invitation of the athletes, the 20-30's—few of whom knew a stopwatch from a tape measure—whittled away at the deficit. As a result this year's meet wound up with the biggest budget ever. The kids were put up at the fancy El Rancho Hotel out on West Capitol Avenue, and the food was plentiful (SmorgaBob's, featuring $1.49 dinners across the street, twice got the call for banquets). There was a queen contest, of course, and the winner, Blanche Wilkins, was clearly in the spirit of things: she accepted her crown with a taped right ankle, which she had sprained while throwing the javelin.
Of the 115 athletes invited to the Golden West, all but three showed up, not including the one who made it to Sacramento but got lost on a sight-seeing trip in San Francisco. The only significant absentee was Reynaldo Brown, the Compton, Calif. senior who jumped?' 7'¼" in the Olympics. Otherwise, the field was the strongest the Golden West ever had, and Sacramento was crawling with college bird dogs.
In addition to Carrigan, there were hotshots like George Amundson, a strapping Aberdeen, S. Dak. youth who is the only high school boy ever to throw the 3 lb. 9 oz. discus more than 200 feet. Amundson was tickled to be in Sacramento, particularly since he almost didn't get there. Thursday morning he flew to Sioux Falls, S. Dak., where he caught a plane for Salt Lake City. He was flying youth-fare, however, and in Salt Lake he got bumped from the plane to Sacramento and wound up sitting in the airport for five hours while his bags went on to Reno. Finally, George flew to San Francisco and got on a bus to Sacramento, where he arrived late at night with nothing but the suit he was wearing and the discuses he had carried under his arm. All day Friday he walked around wearing a University of Texas T shirt, borrowed shorts and shoes. "Boy, I can't wait until tomorrow night," he said. "But really, I don't know how well I'll do. I've only worked out twice this week." On Saturday night Amundson shattered the meet record with a heave of 193'6". A protean young man who also played the trombone in the school band and single-wing tailback on the football team, Amundson thinks he's headed for either Iowa State or Tennessee.
With the exception of the pole vault, however, the most spectacular event was the 100-yard dash, in which the slowest man in a field of nine turned in a nifty 9.5. Although slightly unnerved by a false start, Willie McGee, a bearded speedster out of Hattiesburg, Miss., won in 9.3 to tie Billy (Peanut) Gaines' national high school record. McGee had gone that fast before, but up to now no one believed his times. "See what happens," said Meet Director Jack Germain. "Here is a kid, a typical good, fast, Southern Negro boy. The times come out of those small towns in the South—9.3, 9.4—and everybody says, 'Aw, they're padded. High school kids can't run that fast.' So we get the kid out here and what happens? Nine-three. New record. Even though we don't draw flies with this meet, it settles things like that."
"I've never run in a meet this big before," said McGee. "It was a thrill to win, but honest, I got out of the hole late. After my false start, I had to be careful. Now, if I'd had a good start...."
In the triple jump, Zach Gillon of Peekskill, N.Y. bettered Bob Beamon's listed record (50'3¼"). The people back in Peekskill couldn't have had more confidence in Zach. To make sure he had transportation to Sacramento, they set up a sort of Zach Gillon Golden West Fund, placing canisters in stores, barber shops and dry cleaners around town. Gillon wound up with $1,200 for his trip west, and he didn't disappoint anybody—with the possible exception of himself. With his goal set firmly at 52 feet, Gillon won with a leap of 50'11¼", but it won't make the record books since it was wind-aided. "My coach says I should go 55 next year," he said. "I think he's right." Gillon could do it for any number of schools—Villanova, Tennessee and Wisconsin among them. After college? "I'd like to be a professional model," he says. "My mother did some modeling. It's a good life."
But to get back to Casey Carrigan and the battle of the heights. The third of five boys, Casey is following in an athletic tradition. Brother Andy Carrigan, a linebacker, just graduated from Stanford, and Brother Mike Carrigan, a defensive halfback, may start for the Indians next year. Behind Casey is 15-year-old Tim, who plays basketball and football. At 11, little Clancey, well, he's setting his sights. As befitting his status, Casey Carrigan was the last Golden West athlete to check into the El Rancho, coming up from Stanford on Saturday morning with Mike. The numeral he would wear on his back that night was, of course, No. 1.
It wasn't until the bar reached 16 feet and a field of eight had been pared to three that Carrigan picked up his pole in earnest. At 16'4", Dave Roberts of Conroe, Texas missed on his third attempt, leaving Carrigan with an old friend, Steve Smith of Torrance, Calif., who had beaten him in the Coliseum-Compton Relays the preceding week. The bar went to 16'8". Carrigan made the height on his first try, and Smith, struggling, cleared it on his third.
"We had a pole-vaulting pit for the kids in the backyard years ago," said Casey's father, Paul Carrigan, who drives a logging truck in Orting, which is 20 miles southeast of Tacoma. "From the time I can remember, Casey was always swinging from trees, jumping and running, things like that. We lived in the foothills at the base of Mt. Rainier, and it seemed that Casey was always outdoors, doing something."
The bar was raised to 17 feet. Carrigan, sitting at the top of the runway, his back to the pit, adjusted his shoes. Then he got up and walked to the box, where he took off his white sweat pants, folded them neatly and placed them in the box. "Seagren and all the good ones do that," his father said. "It cushions the pole when it hits. Helps absorb the shock." The meet announcer told the crowd that the bar was at 17 feet, and Casey Carrigan sprinted down the runway. Up, up, up and over he went, clearing the bar with half a foot to spare. The crowd of 4,000, warming to this now, erupted in applause. Three tries and Steve Smith was out—on this night just another high school pole vaulter who has gone 16'8¾".
"Casey always does his best when he gets down here in California," his father continued. "The weather up home isn't too good in the spring. Why, there were lots of times Casey and I would go over to the high school pit at Tenino, and there'd be sawdust and water from the melted snow still sitting there in the box. He could never get going."
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I direct your attention to the pole-vault area, where Casey Carrigan will try to become the first high school boy ever to Vault 17'4¾"." The announcement was unnecessary.
Again, the shoes were adjusted. Then the walk to the pit, the pants folded and placed in the box, just so. And again, down the runway came Casey Carrigan—"Casey O. Carrigan," his mother said. "It doesn't stand for anything. It just sounds nice, don't you think?" Up, up, and over. Another roar. The track meet was finished for everybody except Casey Carrigan. The crowd had spilled out of the stands and was gathered around the pole-vault area.
"The bar, ladies and gentlemen, is at 17'10¼". Casey Carrigan will make three attempts at this height, and if he succeeds he will have gone higher than anyone has vaulted before."
Carrigan failed on his first attempt.
"How do you feel, kid?" an official asked him.
"I feel good," said Carrigan. "But I'd feel better if I went over it."
Carrigan failed on his second attempt.
"I always thought sometime, somewhere, it would come down to something like this," said Mrs. Carrigan. "Casey is a very determined boy. He is a worker, but he is humble. I love him for his humility. His humility and his generosity are my favorite traits."
Casey O. Carrigan failed for the third time at 17'10¼". Engulfed by fans and children, he talked and signed autographs until the lights of the stadium finally went out. "I think I was taking off too soon," he said. "I don't think my form was that good. On the 17-footer, though, I was on it. It was a good jump. I would be interested to know how high I went at 17 feet."
Casey Carrigan. A kid. Just turned 18 last February. We must remember that.