It was eight grade, I was green as grass. Having just grown 6 inches and gained 30 pounds over the summer following my first growing spurt, I had no idea what to expect from my body. I did know that I liked to jump and I was pretty good at it for my age.
The track coach had us all gather at the sand pit as he signaled to an upperclassman he called Phil to come give us a demonstration of something called a “pop-up”. I was chomping at the bit to show what I could do.
Phil bounced over to the middle of the runway resembling a kangaroo in his movements. Hesitating only for an instant, he took 3 or 4 long strides and hit the board, which seemed like it was placed a mile from the pit, giving me the notion that no normal human could possibly reach the pit from there. Springing into the air while rotating his feet in a running motion Phil then landed softly in to the sand, the coach clapping his hands and yelling,
Wow, it did look like he had springs for legs. I had to do THAT.
“Boys, that was a long-jump, pop-up. No-body calls it a Broad-Jump any more”, “Boing”, the coach repeated, show these young future stars what a triple-jump looks like.”
“Sure”, Phil said as he bounded back to about half way down the runway.
Then I noticed another board, which I though was put on the runway by mistake. It was over twice as far from the pit as the long-jump board. Turns out it was further than that at 32 feet.
This time Phil ran faster toward the pit, hitting the further board on his left leg, then landing on the same leg, springing off that leg to land on his right leg which he used to jump into the pit.
“Boys”, the coach said, “you just witnessed one of the best triple-jumpers in the country, do what he does better than almost anyone else.”
I was in awe.
Phil Parker was not bound to the earth by the same gravity that afflicted so many of us mortals. Phil was a beauty to behold on the basketball court as he skied above the rim, literally a foot above any one else.
Greatness comes in many forms. You may think that to be a great athlete you must be in the bright spot light, breaking national and world records, or break into the professional ranks. Did you know that less than 1 (one) percent of all athletes (not the population, but athletes) are considered world-class. So to achieve what Phil has in his athletic career is still in the nose-bleed area of sports. Phil was ranked 4th in the nation in High school in a state that had almost never had athletes of that caliber before. Phil was the first person from Georgia ever to be invited to the national track meet in California called the Golden West, where he placed 4th.
He was a full scholarship athlete at Florida State where he was a college All-American in the Triple-jump. These are just impressive stats and numbers and don't make the man. The man is made by contribution and effort outside of sports, using his sport only as a tool to further “other people's development”, not his own.
That is the Man Philip “Boing” Parker was when I met him and still is today almost 50 years later. Phil became a teacher of course. No matter what profession he had chosen he would have always been a teacher. But Phil chose the direct, noble path to helping others. Selfless.
After Phil went back to his work out, Coach had us all take a long-jump from the close board which was 12 feet to the pit. I was the only one to make the pit and my jump was 18 feet. I guess that got the attention of Phil and the coach. My future was certain.
Phil mentored me through his junior year and senior year. I was like a puppy dog. I followed him everywhere, I copied his walk, his talk, his clothing, his shoes and I tried to learn his triple-jump form. I don't remember speaking two words to him.
Phil's senior year was a thing to behold. Not only did he win everything he competed in but he drew a crowd. All the talking and milling about stopped when Boing stood at the end of the runway. The jumps were conceded to him. Every one else fought for second place. The only thing to be determined was by how much Phil would break the meet record.
I could only practice and learn. I matched his approach run up distance with my own. I used tape and shoes just like Phil. My favorite training exercise was running the stadium steps, just as I'd seen Phil do so many times after a hard practice when everyone else was in the shower or on their way home.
Then before Phil graduated, in my arrogant self-important stile, I told Phil I was going to break all of his records. He only smiled and said “good”, and continued to support me in every way possible. Not only that, but at Sandy Springs High school, there was a senior tradition to “will” something to an underclassman. I was shocked and beamed with pride when I read that Phil willed his nickname “Boing” to me!