Ken Driggs: How Ralph Mann was recruited to BYU

By Ken Driggs, Deseret News Cougar Blog Contributor

A portrait of BYU track and field athlete Ralph Mann (Courtesy BYU athletics)

A portrait of BYU track and field athlete Ralph Mann (Courtesy BYU athletics)

My good buddy, Richard “Zeke” Zimmerman, was a zany Jewish-Mormon kid from the Los Angeles area who came to BYU in the ’60s. He was short, brash, irreverent, and at his best was the life of the party. Zeke was a sprinter on the BYU track team, and also ran the 330 yard intermediate hurdles.

Yes, there was a time that the race was only 330 yards long. Zeke was also the colorful head cheerleader at BYU in 1963-64, and he brought with him some crazy cheers from his L.A. background, including “Faddada, Faddada,” and “Bo-Bo-Sked-Iten-Boten.”

Zeke finished his BYU studies and he and his wife, Jeri, stayed in the Provo area. During the late ’60s he was in the L.A. area during the summer and went to an All-Comers track meet. He was quite impressed with an intermediate hurdler and Zeke introduced himself to him after the event … his name was Ralph Mann.

Zeke asked where he was going to college, and Ralph said he was going to Occidental, because that was the only school that had offered him a scholarship. The intermediate hurdles were not run at that time in high school, and Mann was third in the region in the high hurdles behind two high-profile hurdlers, one of them Wayne Collett, who starred at UCLA.

Zeke asked Ralph if he would consider taking a trip to BYU, and he agreed. Zeke called Robby (famed BYU track coach Clarence Robison), Mann made the trip and accepted a scholarship to BYU.

Ralph Mann after setting the world record in the 440 yard hurdles at the 1970 NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. (BYU Photo)

Ralph Mann after setting the world record in the 440 yard hurdles at the 1970 NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. (BYU Photo)

Mann had a great career, one of the greatest in BYU sports annals. He had perfected the 440 hurdle race with one less step in between the hurdles than his competition, and he went on to win WAC and national championships in the 440 hurdles. In his victory in the 1970 NCAA Track Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, Mann set a world record in the 440-yard intermediate hurdles with a time of 48.74 seconds. He went on to win a silver medal in the 400 meter intermediate hurdles in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Quite a feat and quite a career for a budding track star who was discovered at an All-Comers meet. Mann was truly a great All-American and an outstanding non-LDS representative of BYU.

Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at kkdriggs@gmail.com.

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