Alum Johnny Mathis on High Jumps, Bill Russell, Olympic Aspirations

Thursday, March 12, 2015
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- But the San Francisco native and Washington High School grad was known in his teens as a star athlete — a champion high jumper who cleared the 6-foot-5 mark, despite standing just 5-foot-7. As if that isn’t mind blowing enough, his main rival on the field was future NBA star Bill Russell, then a basketball player at Oakland’s McClymonds High. Mathis also jumped at San Francisco State, where the Johnny Mathis Invitational, an annual track and field meet in his name, is set for Cox Stadium on March 20 – 21. “I got an invitation to go to University of California where the Olympic trials were being held. And in the same week, I got a telegram from a man that I had met occasionally in San Francisco. He turned out to be a big executive at Columbia Records,” Mathis says. “He sent me a telegram, and said come on back (to New York), we want to make a recording. All that happened in the week that I was to try out for the high jump at the Olympics in 1956.”