Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: July 8, 2018

Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: July 8, 2018

Letterman, captain, record-holder, Olympian, Hall of Famer ... Franklin Pitcher "Pitch" Johnson was all of these during a storied career that began with coach Harry Gill's Illinois track and field team.

Ninety-four years ago today — July 8, 1924 — Johnson enjoyed one of his proudest moments, racing by himself at the Stade Olympique near Paris. The unusual circumstance occurred in the seventh qualifying heat of the 110-meter hurdles of the Olympic Games when every other competitor except the St. Louis native scratched. Qualifying for the semifinals with a run of 16.6 seconds, Johnson then participated in the first of three heats, but his time of 15.8 seconds ultimately wasn't good enough to make the finals.

A letterwinner at Illinois in 1922, '23 and '24, Johnson captained the Illini during his senior season, leading the Orange and Blue to a sweep of the Big Ten indoor and outdoor championship meets. He equaled the world record in the 110 hurdles that season, posting a time of 14.8. The Illini also swept the conference crowns in Johnson's sophomore season.

Upon returning from Paris, Johnson assisted Gill in coaching the 1924-25 Illini. In 1928, he became head coach at Drake University. He led the Bulldogs to 10 conference championships and ultimately was inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame.

Johnson moved on to become Stanford's head coach from 1941-43. When World War II ended in 1945, he went to the Philippines and Japan for the U.S. Army to organize and conduct the Pacific Army Olympics. Johnson entered private business in Southern California in 1947.

In 2009, 42 years after his death in 1967, he was selected by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for that organization's Hall of Fame.

Johnson and his wife, Mary, had two sons, Franklin Jr. and Martin, both of whom competed in track at Stanford. Pitch Jr. was a pioneer in Silicon Valley venture capital and became a multi-millionaire through his company, Asset Management Company.

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Jared Hiltzik, tennis (24)

Monday: Dawson DeGroot, football (20)

Tuesday: Dylan Meyer, golf (23)

Wednesday: Tyrone Byrd, wrestling (36)

Thursday: Emily Zurrer, soccer

Friday: Susan Blauser, basketball

Saturday: Allie Bauch, softball (24)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is http://www.SportsLLL.com.

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