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50 years later, Highland’s Powdrell is still the (No.) 1

The countdown to the last jump arrived with both a crowd and a burden.

“The pressure was on,” David Powdrell said.

Inside of University Stadium, the boys Class 4A long jump event at the state track and field meet was nearly over. Powdrell, the Highland High School junior speedster, was favored to win but was trailing and down to his final attempt.

“We were all afraid he was gonna scratch,” said Sandia High’s Marty Watts, who was there at the long jump pit that day as a witness and fellow long jumper. “If he didn’t hit the board, he would have been disqualified.”

As the meet was drawing to a close May 16, 1970, quite a few eyeballs were focused on one of New Mexico’s fastest athletes for this last sprint down the ramp.

“You know how in a bowling alley, and a dude is getting ready to bowl a 300, and the whole alley stops?” Powdrell said. “It was like that.”

He was competing in five events that weekend, as the top athletes often did then and now. Powdrell ran both sprint relays, plus the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes.

“I was exhausted,” Powdrell said. “You might be 18, and might be a stud, but that hot stadium …”

With that mindset, and knowing he had to jump 24 feet to win, Powdrell began down the ramp – it was a cinder track then – and there was an anticipatory buzz swelling.

“Everyone had a feeling it (the state record) was about to go down,” Powdrell said, half a century later. “The wind had to be down, and everything had to be perfect.”

On that Saturday, Powdrell sped down the ramp, went airborne into the dry desert air and landed 24 feet, 3¼ inches later. That mark won him the state title and made history.

“I hit one,” he said matter-of-factly. “I just hit one.”

This weekend – Saturday, in fact – is the 50th anniversary of Powdrell’s 1970 long jump victory.

But that’s not all.

Powdrell’s long jump that year also carries this significant weight in that it remains the oldest overall individual boys state record on the books in New Mexico. There are a handful of classification records that predate 1970, but Powdrell’s is New Mexico’s longest-standing overall individual record – by 13 years.

“When I hit the board, you could tell. Boom!” Powdrell said in a recent sit-down interview with the Journal at his home. “When they said (I had the state record), I tried to be nonchalant.”

Powdrell was a stellar football player for coach Bill Gentry at Highland, in the days when Hornets football was a major brand name, so maybe he was conditioned to take it all in stride. But his record didn’t surprise anyone.

“It was a great year,” said Brad Winter, a Highland teammate of Powdrell in football and track. “He was a great athlete. He was a born athlete. He ran, he long jumped, he did everything.”

The 1970 state track and field meet was the first under the Class 4A banner.

In Powdrell’s senior year of 1971, he was the 100-yard and 220-yard state champion, and repeated as the winner (24-1¾) in the long jump.

It should be noted that there have been a few jumps longer than Powdrell’s in New Mexico. But they were either not at the state meet, which is the only place a state record can be established, or they were wind-aided, such as Belen’s Marty Trujillo’s jump of 24-3½ to win state in 1983. The wind precluded it from being a state record.

Powdrell soared nearly 26 feet in out-of-state competition while at Highland.

David Powdrell stands in front of his childhood home across from UNM Stadium where he set a state record in the long jump in 1970 that still stands today. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque

“For me, I’m challenged to say we’ve had a better track athlete (in New Mexico) than David Powdrell,” said Matt Henry, who was a track athlete at Del Norte when Powdrell competed and who is the father of Cleveland boys track and field coach Kenny Henry. “He’s a hero in my mind for track and field.”

Powdrell was 17 on the day he broke the state meet, and he is surprised, even shocked, that nobody has managed to eclipse him.

“Very,” he said. “There have been way too many athletes who’ve come through this place. (A lot of) guys were capable of doing it, but no one was doing it.”

For many years, much like the 1972 Miami Dolphins who raised a champagne glass when the last undefeated team in the NFL went down each year after their perfect season, Powdrell said he used to relish owning the mark and being a record holder.

But about 30 years ago, he said, he began to be disappointed that nobody had found a way to earn that elusive asterisk that is assigned to the state’s overall track and field state record holders.

The record can be broken, he believes, if an elite multisport athlete reduces his number of events and concentrates on the long jump. But track and field athletes rarely limit themselves to a single event.

“I think the coaches now rely more on technology … you have to know how to get the best out of a kid,” Powdrell said, as he wondered what exactly was preventing someone from jumping farther than he did. “Coaches in those days were doing a bit better job because of the marks.”

Powdrell has been working part time at his family’s popular barbecue restaurant in Albuquerque. But the coronavirus has changed things, and he said he may just retire.

An interesting side note to the day he broke the record was that he was living in a house just a couple of 400-meter runs away from University Stadium, and walked home when the meet was over. He still lives on that block – in the house next door to where he then lived – and the press box at UNM’s stadium is easily visible from the front window in his living room.

“Right there,” he said, pointing as he responded to a question about where he broke the record.

He knows that someday, someone will nudge his name aside. But 50 years later, he remains the record’s sole guardian.

“I don’t care if they break it or not, but I know that it should be broken. I do like that I get to do an interview. I’m 67 years old!” Powdrell said, laughing. “It’s all good.”

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