Class of 1976
Sometimes the best things a youngster can do in early athletic talent development is just being an active kid, running and playing in your neighborhood, trying to keep up with your older brother and his friends. Admittedly, that was easier to do in the 1960s and 70s than it is today. For Kathy McMillan, growing up in Raeford, N.C., it was running and lots of jumping in the fields, woods and playgrounds near her home – especially leaping over some nearby creeks.
By the time McMillan got to Hoke County High School as a freshman in 1972-73 – her first year in the sport – she was naturally attracted to the sprints and long jump and, right away, could jump well beyond 16 feet. Coach William Colston surely knew he had a supremely talented athlete on this team, even if he probably had no idea what McMillan would achieve in a few years.
By the end of that season, she was the NCHSAA state champ at 17-7. Her sophomore spring in 1977, she improved her state meet mark to 18-0 and added a 220y dash victory in 25.4. But that summer, McMillan exceeded that mark by nearly two feet, leaping 19-9 to win the AAU Junior Olympic title and threaten the national prep lead – not to mention being one of the best female jumpers in the nation, period.
In 1975, McMillan was a junior and ascending to the world-class level. She won her 3rd state title with 20-2.5 (and added the 100y and 220y), but improved to 20-6.5 (for 2nd) at the AAU Nationals – earning some Team USA international opportunities. She traveled to Kiev in the Soviet Union for a US-USSR dual meet where she was 6th with 19-7. Not her best, but in her 2nd try during a tri-meet in Prague, she exploded all the way out to 21-7.25 – winning and smashing Sherron Walker’s HSR. Back in Durham, she captured a Pan-African meet a week later.
The 1976 Montreal Olympics loomed ahead and McMillan had a great chance to make the team. In April, she broke the HSR – and American women’s LJ record – three times, including a mammoth 22-1.75 in Knoxville. After another state meet triple (including a still-unsurpassed meet record 21-7), she leapt her final HSR – 22-3 – to win the AAU title at age 18. That HSR stood until 2015 – 39 years! – when Kate Hall leapt 22-5 at NBNO.
McMillan won the Olympic Trials in Eugene and she was off to Montreal. In a dramatic long jump final, she was in 6th-place until her 5th attempt, when she bounded 21-10.25 for the silver. Then heading to Tennessee State to join Coach Ed Temple, Chandra Cheeseborough and a great crew, McMillan had a fine career behind her prep days and made the 1980 Moscow Olympic team that missed the Games due to the Boycott. She also was the 1979 AAU champ and won the Pan American Games in Mexico City in both ’79 and ’83.
Photos courtesy of NCPrepTrack.net and Kathy McMillan
Did You Know?
42 years after graduation, Kathy McMillan still has the top long jump in North Carolina high school history by nearly two feet.