Most people haven’t heard of David Swinton, but he’s one of Baker School’s best track athletes. Swinton won the Class 2A pole vault title in 1974 with a 12-foot, 6-inch leap. In 1975, he had a 14-foot, 6 3/4-inch vault, helping the Gators win the state championship. On many track and field teams, he would have been the main attraction. But as he soared to new heights for the Gators, the legendary Houston McTear tied the world record in the 100-yard dash on May 9, 1975, and received most of the attention.
‘I WANT TO TRY THAT’
Swinton said he didn’t plan his ascent in the pole vault world. “I went to a track meet at Milton and I was running the 330 intermediate hurdles and I saw some guys out there pole vaulting,” he said. “I went back to the coach (Will Willoughby) and told him, ‘I want to try that.’
“He said, ‘OK.’”
The coach let Swinton use an old pleated steel pole. Once Swinton showed his potential with it, Willoughby got him a fiberglass pole. Willoughby provided the pole, but the school lacked a regulation track — much less a pole vault pit — so the rest was up to Swinton. “I built my own pole vault pit at the house,” Swinton said. “I took a bunch of mattresses and stuck them all together. I went out in the woods and cut down some trees for the expansion and I rigged me up a cross bar. “I basically put it together myself and I just kept on practicing — that was the only thing that got me there.”
PUTTING BAKER ON THE MAP
At first, Swinton said, he enjoyed seeing how high he could go. “It was just fun going to all the meets and for people to find out we actually had a team at Baker,” he said.
Then the Gators started winning.
“It was just an adventure being out there,” he said. “You knew you were helping your community and helping put Baker High on the map.”
As much as Swinton loved winning, he also enjoyed helping the opposition improve.
“Even though I was in competition with a lot of people, even if I saw them doing something wrong I would always try to give a lending hand,” Swinton said. “Coach Willoughby didn’t like me doing that, but it was just that I wanted to see them jump high.
“I felt good about helping somebody. That meant more to me than just being a winner all the time.”