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|Johnson was LSU's Golden Boy|
There have been a few students walk on at LSU athletic team and make a big impact. But it certainly isn't something that happens often.
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the student to make the biggest impact up to the year 1952 was from Vidalia.
Charles Johnson graduated from Vidalia in 1947.
Johnson attended LSU and competed in intramural sports for his Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
Johnson went out for track his first year without success. Two years later, LSU track coach Al Moreau discovered his future star during an intramural meet.
"I had to skip a year because I spent too much time on other things besides studying," Johnson said.
In a story in the Times-Picayune's Dec. 30, 1951 magazine section previewing the 1952 Sugar Bowl Relays, Moreau related how Johnson became part of the team.
The Times-Picayune called it, "the most startling find ever made in Tiger land."
Johnson, then 20, was competing in an intramural meet on April 18, 1951. Moreau was there looking at a freshman prospect.
"I went to clock a kid in the 100-yard dash," Moreau told the Times-Picayune. "All of a sudden, here comes Charlie ahead of everybody else running in his stocking feet. He won the dash in 10.2 seconds. After this I forgot about my prospect and started watching Charlie. He won the 220-yard sprint in 23 seconds and broad jump at 21 feet, 5 inches. I said, boy, I'm not inviting you to come out for track, I'm begging you."
Two days after the intramural meet, Johnson competed in the Southwest Louisiana Institute Relays in Lafayette.
"It was his first meet and he wasn't in shape for anything but the broad jump," Moreau said. "He jumped 23 feet, 2 1/2 inches to win. One of his opponents was Jimmy Fos of Tulane, who made the best jump in the Southeastern Conference in 1950."
Moreau said he told Johnson he would put a handkerchief at 23 feet for him to aim at. He said Charles came running down the lane and leaped into the pit and landed. He was short of the handkerchief, so he got up with a disgusted look. After the official measured the jump and it was better than 23 feet. Moreau said when no one was looking, he moved the handkerchief back to 23 1/2 feet.
Johnson said he actually doesn't remember the handkerchief story, or other stories that came up at that time.
"I don't remember the handkerchief," Johnson said. "And they had stories in the Morning Advocate where I used to chase rabbits and a rabbit jumped on the track once after someone throw the javelin while I was racing, but none of that really happened."
On May 23, 1951, LSU faced Tulane and Johnson finished second in the broad jump and second in the 100-yard dash at 9.8. He was nosed out by one-tenth by teammate Joe Preston. Johnson tied in the high jump with teammate Carlo Christina at 5 feet, 10 inches. They both went 6-feet over the bar in a jump-off.
One year later, Johnson set the track record at the Southwestern Relays, running 9.5 in the 100 to break Preston's mark and set a record in winning the triple jump (then known at hop, step and jump) at 45 feet, 7 3/4 inches. He also won the broad jump with a leap of 22 feet, 11 1/2 inches.
Alabama won the SEC championship, but Johnson edged out Auburn's Jackie Creel in a time of 9.9 in the 100-dash and finished second by less than a second to Creel in the 220. Johnson won the broad jump with a leap of 23 feet, 11 1/4 inches.
Johnson was born in Dallas. His father, W.F. Johnson worked for Atlas Construction, which meant the family moved to wherever the work was going on.
Johnson moved from Arkansas to Mississippi to Louisiana, starting school in Bunkie.
When work began on the levee in Concordia Parish, Johnson's family moved to Vidalia.
"We were living in Baton Rouge," Johnson said. "The shop was in Morganza at the time. My dad had jobs all up and down the river."
Johnson entered the eighth grade at Vidalia. The school was located where the Vidalia Upper Elementary currently sits. All grades were in the building, which had two stories.
"Back then they taught every other grade every other year," Johnson said. "After the 11th grade, I went back to the 10th. And there were only 11 grades back then. We had the second largest graduating class in 1947 with 10 people. We had three teachers, including Ms. Huff and her daughter, Katherine Winston.
Johnson said it wasn't hard fitting in.
"There were not a lot of people here," he said. "And we brought a bunch of people from Atlas."
Johnson played basketball year round and played softball and baseball during the summer.
Vidalia High did not have football until 1952.
'My first year I didn't play basketball at all because they had Fanny (Martin) and Brer (Schiele and everybody just threw the ball to them," Johnson said. "Vidalia had good basketball teams back then. I actually watched them play in the state tournament. But they always ended up playing Block the first time and Block had real good teams."
Johnson played basketball in 1947 and the Vikings advanced to the state semifinals before losing to Fairview Alpha to finish in third place. Fairview Alpha defeated Arnaudville for the championship.
The tournament was played in the LSU Agriculture Center in Baton Rouge.
"It really helped with Hubert Turnage moved here," Johnson said. "He cleaned the boards."
Johnson was named All-State in his senior year.
The team was coached by Clyde Smith and other members were Bobby Comer, Skip Martin, Donald Mullens, Henry Comer, Audra Talley, Gilbert Savoy, Billy Lentz, Leslie Southerland and Austin Meng.
Johnson also enjoyed playing baseball during the summer.
"Hubert could have played professional baseball," Johnson said. "He was offered a contract, but one day when he was throwing the ball over the fence at Liberty Park, he hurt his arm."
Johnson was 16 when he graduated.
He was also 5-foot-6, 125 pounds when he graduated.
Johnson made good grades in Baton Rouge before moving to Vidalia, where his grades slipped a bit.
"There was a picture show next to the old Power Lock & Safe and we would go every night," he said.
Johnson attended LSU and joined Delta Kappa Epsilon along with buddies Nathan Calhoun and William C. Falkenheiner of Vidalia.
I gained up to about 165 pounds my second year," Johnson said.
Johnson competed in intramural football games against Kappa Sigman.
"I never missed a class my first year," he said. "You had to take 18 hours and I passed 15 because I never could get English," he said.
Johnson went out for track his first year. He had worked out at the Natchez High track with Coach A.I Rexinger in high school, learning the broad jump and triple jump.
"Nothing really panned out the first year, so I didn't go out the second year," Johnson said.
Johnson had to sit out a semester, but in 1951 went out for track again when Coach Moreau asked him to join the team.
Johnson began to flourish, running a 9.5 in the 100-yard dash.
He was also a star on the gridiron, leading his Dekes team to the fraternity championship as DKE defeated Kappa Alpha 6-0 as Johnson caught a touchdown pass from Malcolm McCall in the final minute.
LSU head coach Gaynell Tinsley later had an assistant coach work Johnson out for the football team, but Johnson's eligibility had just run out because of his age.
But track was where Johnson shined the most.
He finished second in the 100-yard dash in the Drake Relays behind Jim Golliday of Northwestern.
Johnson competed in the NCAA track championships in Berkley, Ca., placing third in the triple jump at 48 feet, 3 3/4 inches.
The event was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
"That stadium was so big,"Johnson said. "It was unbelievable."
In the Olympic trials, Johnson placed fifth in the nation in the triple jump, just missing out on qualifying for the Olympic team. He was sixth in the 100-dash semifinal heat.
"I just didn't train like I should have," Johnson said. "I really wasn't excited about going."
Johnson graduated from LSU in February in 1954, After stints in the Advanced ROTC and also served in the Air Force before returning home to do some odd jobs in construction with some high school friends.
That led to the start of Concordia Contracting Co., which Johnson has been president of since the early 1960s.
Johnson now looks back at the results of the 1952 Summer Olympics 100-meter dash in Helsinki, Finland and can envision his name among the top three.
Lindy Remigino of the United States won the gold medal that year with a time of 10.79.
"It was the only race he won all year,"Johnson said.
Herb McKenley of Jamaica was second at 10.80, McDonald Bailey of Great Britain third at 10.83 and Dean Smith of the United States was fourth at 10.84.
"I can look back with some regrets, but there were still a lot of great memories," Johnson said.
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