Billy Etchison in hall of fame

Published 9:15 am Thursday, July 21, 2016

If you have a conversation about the greatest Davie track & field athletes of all time and do not include Billy Etchison, you have to start over.

In one Davie meet, Etchison long jumped 24 feet and 1/2 inches, and he went 21 or 22 feet on his bad days. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association outdoor record in the long jump is 25 feet, 0.75 inches, set in 1991 by High Point Central’s Eric Alford. Etchison’s 24-0.5 in 1976 would have easily won the 2016 state championship in all four classifications (The 1-A winner went 22-06.5, the 2-A winner went 22-06.75, the 3-A winner went 22-10 and the 4-A winner went 23 feet.)

As a Davie sophomore in 1974, Etchison turned in 9.9 seconds in the 100-yard dash. Two years earlier, former Davie star James “Jingles” Ijames broke the Winston-Salem State record in the 100-yard dash at 9.6. The NCHSAA changed that event from 100 yards to 100 meters years later, but the high-school record for the 100-yard dash was set at 9.4 in 1954. “Bullet” Bob Hayes, who played for the Dallas Cowboys when he wasn’t burning up tracks, set the world record in the 100-yard dash at 9.1 in 1964.

All of which tells us what sort of company Etchison was keeping.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to see kids long jump, triple jump and all those things,” said Davie football coach DeVore Holman, who coached track at Davie for many years. “When somebody is able to long jump beyond 21 feet, they are special. When you see somebody go 22, 23 feet, what an athlete. What explosion. The sky’s the limit for those guys. I bet you can look at a number of track meets that have taken place over the last 10 years, and maybe – maybe – you will find a 24-foot jump. I mean that’s rare – very rare. (A 9.9 in the 100-yard dash) is outstanding. I mean that’s speed on speed.”

Etchison (Class of ‘76), Denny Key (‘89) and Maria Newsome (‘95)  represent the 16th hall of fame class, bringing the membership to 46. They will be honored before and at halftime of Davie’s football game on Sept. 2. The 1961-62 boys and girls basketball teams will also be inducted.

Etchison’s accomplishments during his four-year career at Davie are staggering. They would earn him a scholarship to East Carolina University.

• As a freshman, he broke the North Piedmont Conference record in the long jump.

• He was a four-time NPC champion in the long jump.

• Twice he broke the NPC record in the long jump.

• He was a two-time bi-conference champion in the long jump. (The week following the NPC championships, the North Piedmont and South Piedmont conferences clashed in what was called the bi-conference meet.)

• He tied the NPC record in the 100-yard dash, sharing the mark with Ijames.

• He was a two-time Western North Carolina High School Activities Association champ in the long jump. (Davie and thirty-some other schools were members of the WNCHSAA from 1956-77. The WNCHSAA folded following the 1976-77 school year, as all members joined the NCHSAA.)

• He broke the WNCHSAA record in the long jump.

• Twice, Etchison and his 440 relay team won the NPC.

• Etchison was the bi-conference champion in the 100-yard dash.

• Etchison and his 880 relay team won the bi-conference title.

• Etchison and his 440 relay team won the WNCHSAA title.

There was more.

• In Junior Olympics competition, Etchison broke the state long-jump record in the 12-13 age division in 1971.

• Later in Junior Olympics, Etchison broke the state long-jump record in the 14-15 division.

The run from 1973-76 was a golden era in Davie track under the late Burt Barger, who was inducted in the Davie Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002. The War Eagles won the NPC in 1973, 1974 and 1976. They won bi-conference titles in 1973, 1974 and 1975. They won WNCHSAA titles in 1974 and 1975 and were runner-up in 1976.

Davie has only won two titles since (the WNCHSAA in 1977 and the Central Piedmont Conference in 1997).

“Billy was the best long jumper in the conference when he was in ninth grade,” said Russ Spry, who was on a record-setting mile relay team in 1974. “He ran the 100 and was around 10.1, 10.2 when he was 14, 15 years old. Yeah, it was amazing what he could do. Burt Barger could get you to do things that you had no clue you could do. In fact, Mr. Barger got (Etchison) when he was in eighth grade and took him to Junior Olympic contests. He was competing against 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds and he was winning. Billy was special.”

Etchison grew up in Advance and attended Pinebrook Elementary. Barger recognized his potential greatness in seventh and eighth grades.

“In elementary school I played football and just a little bit of basketball,” said Etchison, 58, who now lives near Mocksville. “Burt Barger kind of recruited me and when I got to the high school, I dedicated everything to track. I was in (Barger’s) class and then I started practicing track with him, and one thing led to another. I ran the 100 and 220, but I specialized in the long jump. Because I ran the 200, (Barger) had me in the 440 relay, too. I ran the last leg on the 440 relay.”

Etchison began competing in junior Olympic meets in 1971 at age 13, and the results foreshadowed a big career. Barger hauled a crew to the State Junior Olympics in Jacksonville, N.C. in June of ‘71, and Etchison set a new state long-jump record in the 12-13 division with a leap of 19 feet, four inches. He also captured the 440-yard dash at 59 seconds. The top-three finishers advanced to the regional meet at the University of Georgia.

In a junior Olympics meet in June of ‘72 at Myers Park, Etchison won the long jump in the 14-15 division at 20 feet, nine inches. Etchison and teammates Andy Atwell, Tim Austin, Kathy Boger, Rick Spry and Teresa Chappell advanced to the Junior Olympics Sectional meet against state winners from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The winners from the sectionals would advance to the national finals in Seattle, Wa.

In July of ‘72 in the District III Junior Olympics, athletes from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida competed in Charlotte. Etchison won the long jump at 21 feet, seven inches – his longest jump ever to that point – even though he was the youngest in the event.

The victory earned Etchison an all-expense paid trip to Seattle, Wash., for the National Junior Olympics. The year before, in ‘71, Etchison was not eligible for Washington because he was too young.

“Last year I was disappointed that I couldn’t go because I wasn’t old enough,” Etchison said then. “But my parents told me to try again this year and do good. I was just about as happy as I’ll ever be.”

Barger said then. “As far as I know, this is the first time anyone from this area has advanced to the national finals (which included the top winners from 12 districts).”

While preparing for nationals, Etchison suffered a heartbreaking knee injury. He made the trip to Seattle but was unable to compete.

“I got hurt practicing to go,” he said last week. “I kind of blew out my knee. But because I had already won the position, they let me go anyway. That’s how I got to Seattle, Wash.”

As a Davie freshman in 1973, Etchison was an immediate star. Etchison, Tom Anderson, David Hart and Hubert Clark dominated in the 440 relay, and Etchison was routinely exceeding 20 feet in the long jump.

In the 1973 NPC championship meet at Davie, the War Eagles claimed first place, giving Barger nine conference titles (seven at North Rowan and two at Davie, the first coming in 1969). Etchison set a new NPC record in the long jump at 22-10.5. The old mark belonged to Davie’s Hubert West at 21-3 in 1969. Davie set other NPC records that day: Paul Andrews (153.5 in the discus, breaking the record of North Rowan’s Buddy Lowery at 139-9.5 in 1970) and Tim Austin and Jeff Quesenberry tied in the two-mile at 10:29.6.

In the 16-team bi-conference meet at Davie, the War Eagles took first place behind wins from Andrews (discus), Austin and Quesenberry (two-mile) and Etchison (long jump).

In a junior Olympics meet at Wake Forest in May of ‘73 – with 300-plus athletes participating – Etchison set a new long-jump record in the 14-15 division at 21-6.5. In the state junior Olympics meet in Raleigh, Etchison finished second in the long jump at 21-2. In the 12-13 girls division, Chappell broke the state record in the high jump at 4-7.

“(Etchison) has the most potential of any jumper I’ve ever coached,” Barger said then. “I think 24 feet is within reason for him while he’s still in high school.”

As a sophomore in 1974, Etchison resumed his legendary tear. In an April meet at South Rowan, he won the 100 (10.3 seconds), the 220 (23.8 seconds) and the long jump (21-2).

Davie hosted the NPC championships in May of ‘74, and the War Eagles repeated as conference champs. Etchison’s 9.9 in the 100-yard dash tied the NPC record (Ijames went 9.9 in 1970). Etchison won the long jump at 22-6 and placed second in the 220. Davie’s Mark McIntyre, William Spry, Doug Quarles and Tom Anderson ran a NPC record 3:28.7 in the mile relay, Barry McBride turned in a NPC two-mile record of 10:09, and Quarles’ 44-4 in the triple jump set another NPC record.

A week later, the War Eagles captured the bi-conference for the second year in a row, their 134 points topping Salisbury’s 107.5, and Salisbury entered with a 12-0 record. Etchison took first in the long jump at 21-8. McBride broke the bi-conference two-mile record at 10:04.1, and McIntyre, Russ Spry, Quarles and Tom Anderson set a bi-conference record of 3:25.5 in the mile relay.

This gave Barger four bi-conference titles in a span of nine years. “This is the best bunch of boys I’ve ever had, both talent-wise and attitude-wise,” Barger said then.

In the 27-team WNCHSAA meet at Davie, the War Eagles hauled off the first-place trophy with 78 points to Salisbury’s 67. It was Davie’s second WNCHSAA title and Barger’s fourth in 10 years. Etchison had a record day in the long jump, the 23-7 eclipsing the old mark of 23-3 by Shelby’s Clarence Laborn in 1971. Robert Pulliam (20.4 in low hurdles) and Austin (4:27.4 in the mile) added victories. Etchison and Salisbury’s Pete Hardin were honored as the most outstanding performers in field events.

In a junior Olympics meet, more than 500 athletes from ages 11-17 gathered at Wake Forest. Etchison seized the long jump at 21-7.5. In the state junior Olympics at N.C. State University, Etchison was second in the long jump in the 16-17 division at 21-7 3/4.

In May of ‘75, East Rowan ended Davie’s reign in the NPC with 175 points to Davie’s 157. Etchison won the long jump (21-4.5) and Etchison, Kelly Brown, Gilmer Mason and Carnell Jones claimed the 440 relay at 44.45 seconds. McBride broke his own NPC record in the two-mile at 9:57.05, becoming the first two-miler in the NPC or SPC to break 10 minutes in a conference, bi-conference or association meet. Pulliam broke the NPC record in the 120 high hurdles at 14.55.

After watching East Rowan celebrate a week earlier, the War Eagles came back with a vengeance, winning the bi-conference for the third straight year. Davie had 122 points to 91 for East Rowan, which was missing four key guys who were suspended from school for five days. Etchison tied a Salisbury rival for first in the 100 at 10.2 seconds. Etchison, Brown, Mason and Jones won the 880 relay at 1:33.1.

The 34-team WNCHSAA meet was held at South Point, and Davie won for the second straight year with 74 points to Freedom’s 61. Now Barger had five WNCHSAA titles in 11 years. Pulliam (first in the 120 high hurdles at 14.6 and first in the 330 intermediate hurdles at 38.9) and McBride (first in the mile at 4:30.1) were crucial as they combined for 38 points.

In the junior Olympics in Winston-Salem, Etchison, Pulliam, Mason and Brown won the 440 relay, earning a berth to the sectional meet at Myers Park in Charlotte.

In the state junior Olympics in Raleigh, Etchison won the long jump in the 16-17 division at 23-4. That qualified him for the Region III Junior Olympics at the University of Georgia.

In May of ‘76, the War Eagles capped an 11-0 regular season with a 76-point win over North Stanly. That’s when Etchison set the school record in the long jump with his incredible 24 feet, 1/2 inches. It was the longest jump by a North Carolina high schooler in ‘76.

Davie won the 11-team NPC with 142 points, knocking off defending-champ East Rowan (93). Etchison broke his own NPC record in the long jump at 23-2 3/4. Etchison, Donnie Sellers, Brown and Carlyle Holman won the 440 relay at 43.8. Other Davie winners were Mike Barnhardt (first in the mile at 4:33.84) and Terry Johnson (first in the high jump at 6-3).

Salisbury scored 58 points to win the WNCHSAA, edging defending-champ Davie (53) and East Rowan (50). Etchison won the long jump at 22-7. Etchison, Sellers, Brown and Holman won the 440 relay at 43.45.

In June of ‘76, the long-jump phenom signed a grant-in-aid with East Carolina. The Pirates were coming off a championship season in the Southern Conference. ECU’s ninth-year coach, Bill Carson, was beyond thrilled to sign the Davie kid from.

“Billy is the most talented long jump prospect to ever enter East Carolina,” Carson said then. “With his speed and competitive heart, we feel Billy may be able to also run our 440 relay. He is a national-caliber athlete and one we are most happy to have at East Carolina.”

Etchison’s career at ECU was short-lived. He did not enjoy college life.

“I went to East Carolina for about two years,” he said last week. “I had a full ride. I didn’t pay for a whole lot of anything. I just didn’t have a feel for college life. My daughter was born in ‘75 right before I got out of high school. When I left East Carolina in ‘78, I had the scholarship and I ran a little track there – but never anything notable. East Carolina back then was kind of a party school – they were partying all the time – and I just wasn’t quite the partying type. I came home and went to work. I ended up going back to school at Forsyth Tech for auto body and paint work (around 1981).”

What is Etchison, 58, doing these days? With a laugh, he says, “as little as possible. I’m a little larger and I’m slower. I’m probably twice as slow. I work at a nursing home in Salisbury. I’m a maintenance guy. I can fix anything that breaks. That’s what I do during the day. My hobby since I got out of college, I learned an auto body trade and I worked that from ‘82 until 2007. I still have a great love for body work and old cars. I mess with old cars. I’m a Volkswagen nut.”