Tracing Tracy Territory: Century-ago sprinter a reminder of local athletic success
by Sam Matthews
Jan 04, 2013 | 2545 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
George L. Parker in New Zealand in 1913.
George L. Parker in New Zealand in 1913.
It’s the beginning of a new year, and like most of us, I’m telling myself, “It’s time to straighten things out and clean up.”

I’m talking about the piles of notes and papers on my desk and in those bulging file cabinets nearby.

I’ve never been exactly a “clean desk” guy, and I’ve always hesitated to throw out some notes or printed material I felt I could need soon or should be preserved for historical purposes. But those qualms were pushed aside earlier this week when I plunged into a cleanup mode.

I’ve been surprised, and sometimes amazed, by the stuff I’ve found in the process.

While rummaging through material collected while I was on the board of directors of the Tracy Sports Hall of Fame in the 1980s, I ran across a photo, one I had thought was long lost, of George Parker.

The photo showed the heavily muscled Tracy resident attired in his Olympic Club track suit. The back of the photo carried the words, “George L. Parker, New Zealand, 1913.”

Yes, it was a century ago that Parker was emerging as a world-class sprinter after establishing an exceptional record at Stockton High School. (When he started high school, Tracy had no high school). George and teammate Carroll Grunsky accounted for nearly all the points as Stockton High won the state high school track and field championship in 1913.

After completing his junior year at Stockton High in 1913, George began competing in track meets for the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

And, though high schoolers were not usually selected for such honors, he was named to the All-American Track Team to tour Australia and New Zealand during the southern-hemisphere summer of late 1913 and early 1914.

George won most of the races in both Down Under countries.

In the Australian National Track and Field Championship in Melbourne, he won the 100-, 220- and 440-yard titles and emerged as the premier American sprinter in the process.

After returning to the United States early in 1914, George completed his senior year at Stockton High and resumed competing for the Olympic Club.

In October 1914, he and two-time national 220-yard-dash champion Howard Drew went head-to-head on the horse-racing track in Fresno. George edged ahead on the back stretch and held on to win the race. Two timers showed his winning time at 20.8 seconds, while a third showed 21.2 seconds.

The world record was 21.2 — George had either broken or tied the world record.

Several days later, Amateur Athletic Union officials gave George a tie for the record at 21.2 seconds. He had gained new recognition throughout the world of track and field, and his record stood for 10 years before finally being broken by Olympian Charlie Paddock.

Unfortunately for George, 1914 was the same year World War I had broken out in Europe. The 1916 Olympic games were subsequently canceled, and George’s hopes of Olympic gold were dashed.

With no Olympics to train for, George went to work on the Parker farm in Tracy. At that time, the Parkers owned most the land north of 11th Street, and Parker Avenue is named for the family.

While farming the family land in the 1920s, George served as president of the recently formed West Side Irrigation District.

Later, George and his wife, Vada, moved to South Lake Tahoe, where they operated a motel, restaurant and service station. George took up painting, specializing in views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

George re-connected with Tracy in the 1960s after moving from Tahoe to Stockton. At the invitation of recreation director Joe Wilson, he handed out medals to elementary school students competing in the Tracy Junior Olympics, which were then named the George L. Parker Junior Olympics.

I can recall taking photos of George handing out the medals and how much he enjoyed talking to the students about their participation in track and field.

In 1963, he established the George L. Parker Award, given annually to the outstanding member of the Tracy High track team.

His bronzed shoes from his world-record performance in 1914 and the team medallion from his high school state championship are attached to the perpetual trophy.

George Parker died in 1974 at the age of 81.

When the Tracy Sports Hall of Fame was launched in 1982, George was among the first inductees, receiving posthumous recognition for his track exploits.

The Tracy Sports Hall of Fame is also history, closing down after less than a decade.

But as the story of George L. Parker that I ran across while sifting through photos and printed material I had collected reminds us, resurrecting some form of a sports hall of fame is something worth considering.

Not all athletes have the unique history of George Parker, but other accomplishments need to be recognized and recorded for posterity, if not annually, at least every few years or so.

Any interest?

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be contacted at 830-4234 or by email at
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