by Dr. John Telford
Cliff Hatcher (pictured here in the starting blocks) was an All-American 440-yard sprinter at Detroit Central High School who clocked an all-time Michigan-best 48.8 seconds in 1951 that stood as a DPS record for 20 years. He became my Wayne State teammate and lifelong friend.
In 2014 I joined luminaries like Mackenzie High’s football and track speedster Jerome Bettis, boxing champ and Northeastern alum Thomas Hearns, Northwestern’s Olympic sprint champion Henry Carr, my old Pershing high-jumper and hoop star Spencer Haywood, and my coaching colleague and idol Will Robinson in the Detroit Sports Zone High School Hall of Fame for my1950s sprinting at Denby (and also at WSU, for the Detroit Track Club, and on the U.S. national team). Now Cliff and I will be reunited! On Friday, September 27, Cliff’s widow Barbara and daughter Joy–my goddaughter–will see the late, great Cliff Hatcher inducted posthumously at the 8th Annual Detroit Sports Zone High School Hall of Fame and Scholarship Banquet in the International Banquet Center (above Fishbones in Greektown–400 Monroe Street, Detroit 48226). For tickets ($60 apiece), contact old MSU All-American running back Laval Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org or (989) 239-1623.
I have many fond recollections regarding my old friend Cliff, but the most vivid one is of an indoor race in the Livingston Relays at Denison University in Granville, Ohio in 1956 that drew the midwest’s best college teams. Northwestern High alumnus “Bullet Billy” Smith–a world-record-breaking hurdler who in 1958 teamed with me, Pete Petross, and Jim Bibbs on the Detroit Track Club’s world’s fastest 4×220-yard relay team–led off the featured sprint relay race in Granville for Wayne State against Western Michigan’s world-record-holding 100-meter dashman Ira Murchison. Billy was in second place behind Ira when he handed the baton to Jerry Catalina, who was caught and passed by Ohio State and MSU–so we were running fourth when Cliff Hatcher got the baton for the third leg. I saw Cliff disappear behind the stands on the far side of the fieldhouse in fourth place and then reappear from behind the stands with a ten-yard lead! He rocketed around the turn and handed me the baton for the anchor leg with a wide, triumphant grin on his face which I have never forgotten, and I sped off to win the race going away.
Cliff Hatcher, “Bullet Billy” Smith, and Marine Corps 440 champ Ralph D. Carter from Northern High later teamed with me to win the 4×440 and 4×220-yard races for WSU at the Ohio Relays in Columbus and the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Cliff topped off that 1956 season by winning the conference 440 when Coach David L. Holmes moved me down from the 440 to win the 100 and 220. The following summer, I incidentally teamed with Ira Murchison on the U.S. Team to win the 4×100-meter relay race in Bologna, where I also won the gold medal over Italian champion Giovanni Scavo at 400 meters.
Joining Hatcher and me and the other old DPS stars in the Hall of Fame on September 27 will be Mackenzie’s Pepper Johnson (football) and Gary Waters (basketball); Pershing’s Wendy Truvillion and Ella Willis (track and marathon); Kettering’s Stan Edwards (track and football); Southeastern’s Selina “Hollywood” Johnson (Lewis Colson Award); Cass Tech’s Hilton Napoleon (baseball); and Southwestern’s Bill Jones (basketball). Popular Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon will M-C the event. We hope to see all of you there!