Class of 1939
When Joe Batiste, his three brothers and parents moved from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Tucson, Arizona in 1938, sports fans in the area had no idea what a family of outstanding athletes with whom their city had been blessed. With Joe entering Tucson High School as a junior, they quickly found out. That spring he tied the national prep 120yHH record for the 42” hurdles at 14.5, blasted a 24.2 for the 200LH and high jumped 6-5.25 (at a time when the world record was 6-10). He won all three events at the state meet and became a local and state-wide sports hero.
As a senior, Batiste progressed one of the best hurdlers in the world. He set a prep HSR over the 39” 120yHH that lasted 18 years and improved his 42” time to 14.4 – which stood for 13 years. After he scored another state meet triple, fans raised money for Batiste and a teammate to go to the AAU champs in Nebraska, where he beat future WR-setter Fred Wolcott and won the national title. He was selected to tour Europe on a U.S. All-Star team that competed in four countries. He ranked #3 on the planet by year’s end.
Batiste had great Olympic prospects, but World War II had begun and the 1940 and 1944 Games were cancelled. He went to Sacramento Junior College – in part because Arizona and Arizona State weren’t recruiting African-Americans at that point – and became an All-American there, even developing in the throws with an eye on the decathlon. After the 1942 season, he entered the Army. The U.S Olympic committee actually named Olympic teams for those war years and Batiste was picked both years for the decathlon and high hurdles.
Did You Know?
Joe Batiste’s younger brother — Fred, a Tucson football standout — was the first African American to letter at the University of Arizona in 1949.