Saturday marked the anniversary of the premature death of one of Arkansas' greatest athletes ever, Winfield Whipple of Arkadelphia. In 1933, Whipple set a state record of 24 feet in the broad jump, a record which would not be broken for decades. His death during college ended a brilliant athletic career.
James Winfield Whipple was born in Crowley, La., on Sept. 10, 1915. His parents were Frederick and Pearl Maxwell Whipple. Win, or Skinny as he was known to his boyhood friends, had three sisters and two brothers. The family moved to Arkadelphia when Win was a baby, buying a home on Hardin Street.
Growing up in 1920s Arkadelphia had an idyllic quality for the securely middle-class Whipple children. Their home was not far from the Ouachita River, and the children swam there often. Former Henderson State University professor Larry D. Frost, who wrote a biographical sketch of Whipple, described the warm relaxing summer days when Win would "join his friends for a swim in the river, a game of baseball, or a race from one corner to the next."
The boys, known informally as the Hardin Street gang, also practiced distance jumping, and Win always significantly surpassed the other boys. Frost noted that "by the time he was 13 years old, his friends were measuring his best jumps at an incredible 20 feet, 9 inches."
At age 14 he exceeded 21 feet. And that was just a beginning. Irina Sadovova, author of the entry on Whipple in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, described the young athlete's remarkable progress: "In the broad jump, Whipple gained almost a foot of distance each year: He jumped 20 feet 9 inches at age 13; in 1930, he jumped 21 feet 5 inches; in 1931, he jumped 22 feet; in 1932, he jumped 23 feet 3 ¾ inches for a new state record. In 1933, while still in high school, he jumped 24 feet 10 inches in a meet against Gurdon and Sparkman, but the jump did not qualify as record breaking because it did not take place at a [sanctioned] national meet."
On May 5, 1933, Win traveled beyond the pit length with a jump that measured 24 feet, 6 inches. However, officials ruled the jump illegal, giving him credit for 24 feet, the length of the pit. This was a new state record.
One observer recalled Win's jumping technique: "He went off the board like a balloon, about head high, maybe 5 feet 6 inches, and soared like a bird. He had extreme confidence. He knew he was good."
Whipple dreamed of besting the record of another Arkansas track and field star, Eddie Hamm of Lonoke. In 1928 Hamm, a student at Georgia Tech, broke the Southern Conference broad jump record with a leap of 25 feet, 6 ¾ inches. During the Olympic trials that same year, Hamm broke the world broad jump record with a jump of 25 feet, 11 ½ inches.
Whipple received an athletic scholarship to attend Louisiana State University where he studied forestry and competed in a variety of track and field sports. He did well during his freshman year, but what was believed to be a stone bruise on his left foot kept him from excelling during his sophomore year. Eventually he was diagnosed with cancer in his left calf, and the limb was removed above the knee, putting an end to his athletic career. But matters would get worse.
At first, Win seemed to be recovering well after he returned home to Arkadelphia. A steady stream of well-wishers visited the Whipple home, including representatives from the LSU athletic department. After several months, his situation worsened, and it soon became clear that the cancer had escaped the surgeon's knife and had spread to his lungs and even his heart.
Win Whipple slipped into a coma on Feb. 2, 1937, and died later that afternoon. He was only 21 years old. He was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Arkadelphia.
Whipple's 1933 state high school record jump of 24 feet was not surpassed until 1983. He was inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2001.
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist who lives near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at Arktopia.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 02/03/2019
Print Headline: TOM DILLARD: The short career of a long jumper