Class of 1915
Perhaps because injury prevented him from winning an Olympic long jump medal in Antwerp in 1920, Solomon “Sol” Butler hasn’t been as widely remembered as some of his contemporaries. But the 1915 Rock Island HS (Ill.) was one of the great all-around athletes of the first few decades of the century, excelling particularly in track and field and football and helping break down racial barriers at every level. With a mighty leap of 24-2 ½, Butler set a prep long jump record that lasted nine years – but that just hints at his talents and successes.
Butler was born in 1895 in Oklahoma, his father born a slave in 1842 and having fought in the Civil War. The family moved to Hutchinson, Kansas in 1909 and a few years later, Butler made his debut on the football team as a starting halfback his freshman year. As a sophomore, he set a state record in the 100-yard dash, helping Hutchinson to runner-up finish.
Butler really started to shine as a junior in ’14, leading the nation in the 100y at 9-4/5 seconds (#2 all-time), ranking 3rd in the long jump at 21-10 ½, and setting an unofficial world record at 50y. He was even winning major meets in the shot put, despite being just 5-10/163.
For his senior year, Butler and his older brother transferred to Rock Island, following their coach, A.N. Roe. He tied his 100y PR, but improved dramatically in the long jump the aforementioned HSR of 24-2 ½. In fact, he was ranked #2 in the world vs. all levels in the LJ, and captured several major titles in the jumps and sprints.
Big schools had an eye on Butler as he entered the collegiate ranks, not very common for African-American students of his day, but he chose Dubuque College (now University) in Iowa. He won 12 letters in four sports and, according to Arthur Ashe Jr.’s book Hard Road to Glory, A History of the African-American Athlete, was the first African American to quarterback a team for all four years of college. Meanwhile, he excelled on the track – winning sprints and jumps at major meets like the Penn Relays – then in 1919 reached 24-9 ½ in the long jump, just two inches off the world record.
Hence, Butler was the LJ favorite heading into the 1920 Olympics, but tragically pulled a tendon on his first jump in the prelims. He would later turn to the NFL, where he starred for multiple teams from 1923-27.
Did You Know?
Sol Butler was ranked #2 in the world as a prep senior in the long jump.