Jack Shepard admits that often opening a file that has track meet results can be similar to the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning. You never know when it might be something very special and very unexpected.
And Jack Shepard looks at a lot of track meet results. Thousands and thousands, seeking that juicy morsel that might have been missed by those who compile the local, state and national lists.
That's because he takes all those lists to the ultimate level, not only producing annual boys rankings for Track and Field News, but then adding only the best to the all-time lists, all of which he has done by himself since 1979 after working directly with T&F News a decade before that.
The result is the only annual publication that, with the help of girls editor Mike Kennedy, no true track and field fanatic can do without. It's a 5½ x 8½, 68-page book that is short on pictures, has no text, has type that often requires magnifying glasses but is crammed with invaluable statistics.
Simply titled "High School Track," the 53rd edition is on sale now
and will no doubt be scattered about at this weekend's 44th Arcadia Invitational in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley. The meet, at Arcadia High School, is annually one of the nation's best and has produced 24 national records over the years and featured 125 future Olympians.
Shepard's book, which will likely be called upon frequently during Saturday night's national invitational, is a labor of love that each year becomes easier and easier while at the same time harder and harder. It's a paradox brought about by the electronic world that makes access to meets easier but also doubles and triples the workload that used to include newspaper results, telephone calls, mysterious faxes, his attendance at all of the major meets and often two or three dual meets daily if he was looking for specific performances.
You picture someone who is driven by marks and pays careful attention to wind readings and timing devises as a kind of hermit who rarely leaves his office and wouldn't have the slightest idea, or interest, in the economy or world affairs.
And you'd be wrong.
Jack Shepard may be a statistician but he has other interests and from July to February, he actually manages to have a normal life. Hey, better than normal since he and his wife of 47 years spend several weeks each summer in Europe.
From March to June he admits, is "a little hectic."
"It starts building in March and I'll spend 16 hours a day (gathering marks)," said Shepard, who worked for Texaco for 36 years until 1996. "I get 99.5 percent of my information on-line now days. I study major track web sites like DyeStat, Athletic.net and MileSplit and then I fan out from there to very solid web sites from various states."
The hours build up quickly, usually 60-70 a week, so he balances that even during the season with activities like the Orange County Wine Society and his church. He says he has no problem breaking away from his constant search for track marks which in the end produce lists of several hundred names, 50 or so which make his annual lists. The top marks often carry over to the all-time leaders, dating back to the 1880s.
He admits he had a lot of help researching both indoor and outdoor track results and yet there have been times when he stumbled upon a mark eight to 10 years after-the-fact that never before had surfaced.
"For example, one of my friends was looking up some old track meet results for an all-time state list and he came across a Nebraska state championship meet story," said Shepard. "The story explained that the meet was hampered by heavy rain, forcing the long jump and pole vault events indoors.
"The long jump was won at 24-10½ by a pretty good athlete named Gale Sayers. For a week or so that became the national indoor record, six years after the fact. That record was broken a few weeks later."
Clearly, Shepard is not averse to changing records when he gets good, solid evidence that the new mark is legitimate.
"I remember we got information about an indoor 800 that was run in 1:51 and change," he said. "That was also better than the national record at the time. We went back to the result and saw two or three runners in the race ran 1:52, so that validated the mark."
It goes the other way.