Three-time Olympic runner was Quincy’s teacher | History
There was a stir among the local sporting crowd when news broke on Tuesday, March 31, 1925, that the current track coach and former outstanding University of Illinois baseball player “Cap” Crossley , had resigned and was replaced twice. Olympic middle distance runner Ray Watson.
In their Daily Journal sports column for April 1, 1925, writers Haley and Jacquin overheard two high school kids talking while hanging out at a local cigar store. “’Dja sees where Ray Watson is going to coach the track team. Yes. I wonder how they get to HIM? It must be an accident. It could not be “on purpose.” But he won’t be there long, someone else will take him away from Quincy.
Ray B. Watson was born in Garden City, Kansas in 1898. A hunting accident at the age of 14 cost him his right hand, but disability never stopped him. He graduated from Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University) in 1921. That same year he became the school’s first NCAA track champion, winning the mile run in 4: 23.4. More significant is the fact that Ray Watson holds the distinction of being the first Kansas State Olympian. At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Watson placed seventh in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Journalist Edwin N. Jacquin wrote in the Quincy Daily Journal for April 1, 1925: “I had seen Watson compete several times. . He had wowed the Missouri Valley conference for three years with his spectacular performances in the half-mile and the mile and his great ability had been the reason for many invitations to compete. . . meets across the country. . .. “Jacquin noted:” His fame was made more remarkable by the fact that an arm was extinguished just above the wrist, the result of an unfortunate accident in his youth. “
Jacquin continued… “Upon arriving at the 1920 Olympic competition, Watson was selected for the United States team. He was again selected for the Olympic team in 1924, the greatest ambition of any track and field athlete. Jacquin went on to say, “And this is the same gentleman who came to Quincy to teach chemistry and higher and more important arithmetic. . . teach high school students the basics of athletics.
The 1981 film Chariots of Fire is based on the true story of two British athletes at the 1924 Summer Games in Paris. Without a doubt, Ray Watson crossed paths with Eric Liddell, the Scottish Christian who ran for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who ran to overcome prejudice.
Eight months before accepting a teaching position at Quincy, Ray Watson competed in the Olympic finals in the men’s 1,500 meters. Twelve riders, three from the United States, took the start that day. Paavo Nurmi, known as Flying Finn, and the event’s world record holder with a time of 3: 52.6 was the favorite. The Daily Herald for July 11, 1924 published an Associated Press article which reported: “Ray Watson, the American star, provided the main thrill when he stood on the heels of the Finn flying up to 300 meters from the air. bandaged. Watson withered towards the end and was not placed. He was seventh out of 12. Nurmi won the gold medal.
On September 2, 1925, Watson told Daily Journal sports reporter Harry C. Haley that he was done with the track and wanted to focus on teaching. Haley broke the news to Journal readers with the headline: “Famous runner Ray Watson now QHS instructor retired from track and field. Haley noted that Watson was the US 800-meter record holder. Watson informed Haley that “” the old shoes were hanging on a nail, and they are here to stay. “He also told Haley,” “I discovered that teaching and competing in various races around the country do not go hand in hand and for that reason I decided to give up the sport.
Fred Gray in his May 20, 1928 Herald-Whig sports column wrote: “Ray Watson’s decision to try for a place on the 1928 Olympic team rekindled the interest of Quincy’s sports fans in this exceptional world event. athletic. Track and field coach QHS has been a member of two Olympic teams and has an incredible chance to make his third Olympic entry — this time in the 800-meter race.
In 1927, Watson returned to competition and became the American Athletic Union’s 800-meter national champion. In the Olympic 800 meters he finished third and was named to the 1928 team, which traveled to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for the Summer Games.
The 800-meter preliminaries were held on July 29 and the finals on July 31. “Watson among the qualifiers for the 800-meter semi-finals on Monday” was the headline on the Herald-Whig sports page for July 30, 1928. After finishing third in his race, Ray advanced to the semi-finals where he ran a time of 1: 56.8 finishing second in his race and making the finals.
What started out as 49 riders from 24 countries was reduced to nine men and six nations. Douglas Lowe of Great Britain, the 1924 gold medalist again won the medal while setting an Olympic record of 1: 51.8. Unfortunately for Ray Watson, it was not his day as he finished in a disappointing ninth place in 2:03. Before the Olympics, Ray clocked a personal best 800 meters of 1: 51.6.
The young guys at the cigar store were wrong. Ray Watson stayed at Quincy; and after 39 years of teaching and five years as a track and field coach, he retired in June 1964. He died on September 7, 1974 and is buried in Quincy Memorial Park cemetery.
For a decade, Raymond Bates Watson, the one-handed runner from Kansas and later Quincy, an Illinois High School teacher and track coach, was one of the leading middle distance runners in the United States. And three times he represented the United States at the Olympics, where he faced men like himself, the best in the world.
“American Athletes Further Increase Point Takes at the Olympics,” Quincy Daily Herald, July 11, 1924.
Crawford, Anthony R. “Wildcat Olympians”, K-State Keepsakes. Manhattan, Kansas: New Prairie Press, 2015.
Gray, Fred, “THIS ‘N That IN SPORTS,” Quincy Herald-Whig, May 20, 1928.
Haley and Jacquin, “Sport — Pot-Pourri—” Quincy Daily Journal, April 1, 1925, p. 9.
Haley and Jacquin, “Sport — Pot-Pourri—” Quincy Daily Journal, April 2, 1925, 13.
Jacquin, Edwin N. “Ray Watson, Record Holder, Olympic Star, Quincy Coach, and Idol of His Classmates”, Quincy Daily Journal, April 1, 1925, 9.
“The New Sports Coach Was On The Olympic Team,” Quincy Daily Herald, March 31, 1925.
Ray B. Watson (1898-1974) – Find a memorial grave.
“Ray Watson, 75, dies; teacher, Olympic runner, ”Quincy Herald-Whig, September 8, 1974,12.
Ray Watson Bio, Stats & Results / Olympics on Sports Reference.com
“Ray Watson, Famous Runner, Now QHS Instructor, Has Retired From Treasure Hunt,” Quincy Daily Journal, September 2, 1925.
“Ray Watson honored at Quincy Relays,” Quincy Herald-Whig, April 16, 1964.
“Ray Watson to Compete in Olympic Final,” Quincy Herald-Whig, July 2, 1928.
“Winning in the third round of the 800 meters sends Ray Watson to the Olympic final”, Quincy Herald-Whig, July 7, 1928.
“Watson among 800-meter semi-finals, Monday,” July 30, 1928.
“Watson finished third in the 800 meters; Qualify for US Olympic Team ”, Quincy Herald-Whig, July 8, 1928.
“Watson Officially Named to Olympic Team,” Quincy Herald-Whig, July 9, 1928.
Watson, Ray B. The Royal Violet of 1921. Manhattan, Kansas: Senior Class Kansas State Agricultural College, 1921.
Phil Reyburn is a retired Social Security Administration Field Representative. He is the author of “Clear the Track: A History of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, The Railroad Regiment” and co-edited “‘Jottings from Dixie:’ The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, USA”
The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County preserves the Governor John Wood Mansion, the History Museum on the Square, the 1835 Log Cabin, the livery, the Lincoln Gallery exhibits, and a collection of artifacts and documents that recount the history of who we are. This award-winning column is written by members of the Society. For more information visit hsqac.org or email [email protected].