"Big Blue Nation" track & field can be thankful for basketball, David Lipscomb University and the dilapidated streets of a Memphis neighborhood for propelling Royce Dates to Tennessee State University.
The sophomore exercise science major wrapped up the 2012 indoor track and field season with a jump of 24-10 ½ (7.58m), the Ohio Valley Conference indoor championship, and the only Tiger with a national ranking (ranked 30th). His performances early in his college career have some people, including himself, looking ahead to NCAA aspirations in the next two years.
Dates started with track & field in the eighth grade before attending Memphis's Whitehaven High School, but his first love was basketball.
"I used track and field to improve my speed and to jump higher. I always wanted to dunk a basketball," said Dates. Basketball was going to be his ticket from the tough streets until "I injured my heal triple jumping and the doctor didn't clear me in time to play my senior year," he said.
Meanwhile, Dates began to focus on academics as track & field became his sport of choice, but academic achievement was nearly derailed by his tough circumstances.
"I grew up in a bad neighborhood," he said. "Shootings, robberies, run-down houses, leaning mailboxes...it was tough to focus on school."
Not only was his neighborhood dangerous, Dates's family of five shared one bathroom and he shared a bedroom with his brother in a small house with only two bedrooms.
"It was all my family could afford at the time. My father owned a business, but at that time it wasn't successful."
However, tough circumstances and his father started preparing him for life.
"My father wanted us [himself and his younger brother and sister] to work for ourselves," said Dates. "He taught us never to quit. He would foul us hard while we played basketball with him."
Dates says his father was teaching him "to keep working hard, go after what you want and don't let anyone get in the way." Now, the sophomore speaks with pride and the proof that hard work pays off - his father's car customization business is now "sought after," he said.
David Lipscomb University's jump coach and TSU alumnus Buford Williams recruited Dates to the Nashville school on a scholarship. When Dates left for college, both family and friends looked up to him.
The pride some family and friends have for him comes from the fact that he used his talent as a way out of the bad neighborhood.
However, Dates transferred to TSU after one semester. "(Lipscomb) wasn't for me, it wasn't a match," he says without further elaborating. Coach Williams called Coach Kelly Carter [the current TSU men's coach at the time] and arranged for the transfer to TSU.
But with Dates, only a freshman and arriving to TSU in the middle of the school year, Coach Carter could only offer a book scholarship. "He wanted to see what I could do. He promised me more if I did well."
Dates achieved all-conference indoor and outdoor status with jumps of 23-1 (indoors) and 24-8=-½ (outdoors). Carter responded with more money.
Dates had to convince those proud family members and friends that Tennessee State was the right choice.
"They wanted to know why I chose TSU instead of the big-name schools," he said. "At TSU, it's a family environment. The coaches, professors, students and administrators care about how you get through school instead of just getting through school."
Also, he had to tell them how he wanted to be connected to TSU's history. "When I am not in class, I like to come over [to Gentry Center] and read about the history of Coach Ed Temple."
Speaking of family environment, Dates's thoughts were interrupted by fellow Flying Tiger LeQuinn Davis, a versatile sprinter who helped the 4 x 400 meter relay to 2nd place, who talked about how he held back tears after Dates's winning jump.
Right afterwards, Tigerbelle and OVC indoor high jump and triple jump champion Daniecce Ward talked about her and her teammates' emotions after her gutsy high jump victory. Dates responded by saying that he couldn't handle her emotion at the time in order to focus on his next jump. It was a touching display of camaraderie, and Dates relished the moment.
"Egos don't play a part in it. When a teammate does well, everyone feels like it's them that did well."
Dates plans to use his degree to become a coach and to influence the future of other people. Also, he wants to teach young people how to use track and field as a network, especially while traveling to meets, to meet people and make connections.
But before that, "I want to be recognized as a champion. I want to be top three in the nation." Also, Dates wants to qualify for the Olympic trials for the 2012 London Olympics. "I want to bring TSU back to where it was."
Appropriately, the past was watching him jump - TSU alumnus and multi-Olympic long jump medalist Ralph Boston was one of the long jump officials.
In his spare time, Dates likes to do things that keep him calm and make him happy. "I am not a big reader...I like to watch the Lion King and talk to people and get them to see things in a different way."
Also, he is the men's track and field representative and the media head for the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, the link between athletes and the athletic administration.
Dates has incorporated his philosophy on life into his email username, rjklear92. "The 'r' stands for Royce, the 'j' stands for junior, and the 'klear' stands for keeping life easy and real."
-- TSU TIGERS --