Thursday, February 8, 2007
--- Excerpts from Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger --- Willye B. White, the Mississippi native and former Tigerbelle at Tennessee State University, who became the first American female to appear in five Olympics, died on Tuesday from pancreatic cancer in Chicago. She was 67. Born in the tiny Mississippi Delta town of Money and raised in the Greenwood area, White was an exceptional athlete when it wasn't all that socially acceptable for girls to excel in sports. "Parents didn't want their little girls to associate with you," White recalled during an appearance at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. "Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glow. Girls were not to sweat. Girls were to glow." She first appeared in Olympic competition at Melbourne in 1956, taking the silver medal. In 1960, she failed to qualify for the final but four years later got another silver medal in the 4 x 100 relay after a 12th in the long jump. She was 11th in the long jump in both 1968 and 1972 in her other two Olympic appearances. She sandwiched a Pan American Games championship in 1963 around a pair of third places in that meet in 1959 and 1967. Olympic teammate Ralph Boston, a Laurel native who won the gold medal in the long jump at the 1960 Olympics, said he still remembers the first time he saw a 14-year-old White run in 1954. "We were down at Alcorn and she won almost every event there was to win," Boston said. "We started calling her Tom Sawyer because she ran barefoot. Then she went on to become a polished, amazing athlete. I really think she's one of the early reasons Title IX came into existence." Breaking loose from the poverty of the segregated Delta, she attended Tennessee State from 1959-1962 and achieved national acclaim with the same Tigerbelle team that produced Wilma Rudolph. White appeared in every Olympics between 1956 and 1972, winning two silver medals - one in the long jump in 1956 and the other in the 4x100-meter relay in 1964. White was the top U.S. woman long jumper in the 1960s and was the first woman to compete for the U.S. in five Olympics. A veteran of numerous other international competitions, White won a dozen National AAU long jump titles, 11 outdoors. She also lengthened the national long jump record seven times.