Sean Lee is 13. Willie Banks is 56.
Only at an all-comers track meet would an intermediate school student be competing against a Hall of Famer—a two-time Olympian and former world record holder in the triple jump.
But the high jump is Sean’s specialty. He holds numerous youth records and titles.
When the bar was raised to 5 feet 11 inches Saturday at Mt. Carmel High School in Rancho Peñasquitos, it was a showdown of two American age-group record holders—with Banks the best man over 55 (having cleared 6 feet last year) and Sean having been among the best preteens ever.
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The result: Three misses for Banks, a Carlsbad resident and La Jolla High School coach, and a second-try clearance for Sean of Rancho Santa Margarita.
Watched by father Ron Lee—a coach at Trabuco Hills High—Sean had good tries at 6-1, which would have been 3 inches short of the American record for boys 13-14.
Asked what he thought about beating a legend, Sean just smiled.
Banks smiled too—especially after getting a great mark in the triple jump after fouling three times (by stepping over the takeoff board). On his fourth and last try, the Oceanside High product's hop, step and jump covered a distance of 42-6¼.
That beats the listed American record for men 55-59 by 16 inches. At first, for lack of a steel measuring tape, the mark was considered ineligible for ratification by USA Track and Field. A cloth tape had been used.
But Banks informed Patch Sunday that “they held up the event until a steel tape could be purchased from the nearest Home Depot, so the record will be ratified.”
Dennis McClanahan, the meet director and Mt. Carmel High School track coach, had made a call for a steel tape over the PA system, but none was produced at first.
But the meet—fourth of five in the San Diego-Imperial USATF Winter Classic series—drew as many as 200 athletes from age 8 to the 60s, McClanahan said.
In some events, such as the 55-meter dash and 1600-meter run, top finishers qualified for the Run for the Dream indoor meet two weeks from now in Fresno.
Begun in 80-degree weather under sunny skies, the 4-hour meet ended under a cloud cover with temps in the 60s. Runners, jumpers and throwers traveled from as far away as Orange and Riverside counties, paid a $10 entry fee and dodged a few stray raindrops.
Banks, who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1999. His world record in the triple jump of 58-11 1/2 lasted 10 years.
Meet results were expected to be posted online Saturday night.
The last Winter Classic all-comers meet is Saturday, Feb. 9, at Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley. See attached PDF for details.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect Banks' age-group record in the triple jump after a steel measuring tape was purchased; the original story indicated that a steel tape was not immediately available.