Eugene Carter had no idea how fast he really was coming out of Littlefield High School in 1948.
World War II and its rationing of gasoline had robbed him of any kind of high school track career. He had played halfback on the football team at Littlefield, located 35 miles northwest of Lubbock.
“I knew I could outrun anybody in my school, but in college, I thought they could all outrun me,” Carter said. “I figured they were all superhuman in college, but I found out they were human just like me.”
Legendary Howard Payne track coach Cap Shelton talked Carter into running track for the Yellow Jackets in January 1948, and the rest is history that was remembered during last weekend’s homecoming activities.
Carter wound up helping Howard Payne win the Texas Conference track and field team championship in 1948 by a 54 1/2 to 53 margin over Abilene Christian. Sixty years later, Howard Payne recognized its 1948 track champions at the Alumni Awards Banquet Friday night and during the homecoming parade Saturday morning.
Twelve members of the 1948 team are still living, and were able to attend homecoming weekend: Carter, Claude Carmichael, Gilbert Duran, Donald Jay, Leo Lacey, Ed Nixon, Joseph Swanner and Joe Wood. Duran, who lives in California, came the farthest distance. Carter, Jay and Nixon are members of the Howard Payne Sports Hall of Fame.
Four living members weren’t able to attend: Bill Kemp, Bill Hartsfield, Bill Lambert and Isaac Pate. Seven members of the team are deceased.
Carter finished third in the 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds at the 1948 Texas Conference meet in a controversial finish.
“Back in those days, they didn’t have cameras (for photo finishes),” Carter said. “In the 220, I wanted to make sure there was no
controversy, no question about who won.”
In the 220-yard dash, Carter won in 20.6 seconds, which set a conference record and was only three-tenths-of-a-second slower than Jesse Owens’ world record at the time.
Carter said when Shelton recruited him, Carter was an unknown quantity as a sprinter. A scholarship was conditional on how Carter performed.
“I asked him about halfway through the (1948) season how I was doing on my scholarship, and he (Shelton) said, ‘We’ll take care of it,’” said Carter, who at age 79 is now serving as mayor of Hale Center, a community between Lubbock and Amarillo, after serving on its city council for 28 years.
“I had never come out for track before because of the war. I had no idea I was that fast.”
Carter helped Howard Payne repeat as Texas Conference champions in 1949. He left the Brownwood campus with best times of 9.5 in the 100 and 20.4 in the 220, which when converted to meters would both still be considered excellent times today.
“I remember all the guys on the team,” Carter said. “Joe Wood ran the mile, and that’s where we got a lot of our points. Claude Carmichael was from Brownwood, and he was real nice to me.
“I remember Cap was real picky about what he would let us eat. The day before we ran, he never wanted us to eat pickles because he said they were like leather in your stomach. He made us eat dry roast beef and dry potatoes for a meal on the days we ran because it was light on your stomach. I liked roast beef and potatoes, but it took me five years after I got out of college before I could eat them again.”
Mike Lee is director of student publications at Howard Payne University.