If you have never been to Georgia’s state track meet it’s a consideration worthy of your attention. Although I haven’t been lately it used to be a rite of spring to go over to Jefferson and watch the non-stop action in track and field. These are the best athletes our state has to offer in terms of running fast, jumping high and throwing heavy objects long distances. It is quite a show.
I distinctly remember going to the meet in the spring of 1980 when a young fellow named Herschel Walker led his Johnson County team to the state title with a performance for the ages. Young Herschel won the 100 yard dash, the 220 yard dash, the shot put and was a member of their mile relay team that came in second. If there had been a pentathlon Herschel would have made a clean sweep of the events. There are some that might poo-poo his accomplishments that day saying his team competed in Class A but Herschel’s time of 10.01 in winning the 100 yard dash was the best of all the classifications in that meet.
So as the great Larry Munson would say, “Let’s get the picture.”
Our focus today happened two years earlier (1978) when Herschel Walker was a sophomore. That spring two young titans met on the field of battle and it must have been a sight to behold those young gladiators go toe to toe at the state track meet (I didn’t see this one in person).
The other youngster was a guy named Larry Kinnebrew. He’s not as well-known as Herschel but those who have followed high school football down through the years remember him well. Kinnebrew played for Coach Jerry Sharp at East Rome High School (now Rome High after consolidating with West Rome in 1992). Kinnebrew and his teammates were fresh off a state title in football having gone 15-0 in the fall of 1977 and he was named Lineman of the Year for his efforts. Ironically he made his mark as a running back for East Rome, Tennessee State and ultimately in the NFL with Cincinnati and later Buffalo.
At this juncture in time (spring of 1978) Herschel was a sophomore (Kinnebrew was a senior) and Walker’s Johnson County football team had posted a pedestrian record of 6-4 during the fall of 1977 but as we all know Walker was on the cusp of greatness. Walker would go on to be First Team All-State in 1978 and then the Back of the Year in 1979 leading his team to the Class A state title – and oh yeah – he was the valedictorian of his high school class. That was a big year for Herschel because in the fall he would join the team at UGA and lead the Bulldogs to a national title.
So these two guys were not your typical contenders for the 100 yard dash title. Normally you see long, lithe athletes running this particular race but in 1978 that certainly was not the case. The big fella’ from East Rome tipped the scales at around 250 pounds and Johnson County’s entry weighed in at about 225. I’m not sure how much the other contestants in that race weighed but I’d guess they averaged around 150 per man with rocks in their pockets. I’d also guess that they were somewhat intimidated by their two mountainous opponents. They probably thought these guys had gotten lost on their way to the shot put pit.
But when the starting gun sounded it was those two behemoths who blazed their way down the track and on this day the senior Kinnebrew got the best of sophomore Walker. Kinnebrew posted a winning time of 10.02 with Walker running a close second and the race between the hulking athletes was very quickly over.
Though Walker came in second in the 100 yard dash his team out-pointed Kinnebrew’s squad 40-32. Johnson County came in second and East Rome tied for fourth place in the meet. Walker went on to place second in the 220 and third as a part of the 440 relay team. Kinnebrew (as part of the 440 relay team) came in fourth behind Johnson County and the big guy from East Rome won the discus state title with a throw of 164’ 7”.
Kinnebrew graduated and attended Tennessee State before entering the draft in 1983 and playing in the NFL for seven seasons. He finished with 3,133 yards rushing. Walker of course went on to UGA where he became a legendary figure. Walker played professionally for fifteen years and rushed for 8,225 yards.
But on that day in the spring of 1978 two giants ran fast and there has likely never been a race like it to this day.
(E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)