Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: May 26, 2019

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: May 26, 2019

Sixty-three years ago today, Illini high jumper Al Urbanckas was Illinois' only individual title winner at the 56th annual Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championship. His effort of 6 feet, 55 / 8 inches tied the bests of Michigan's Brendan O'Reilly and Mark Booth. Urbanckas swept the 1957 Big Ten high jump titles, winning indoors with a jump of 6-67 / 8 and outdoors at 6-83 / 4. The Illini junior went on to share the NCAA high jump championship later that spring. Later that year, Coach and Athlete magazine named him Midwest Track Athlete of the Year.

A product of Springfield's Cathedral High School, the only reason Urbanckas went out for track and field was to stay in condition for his favorite sport, basketball. He learned to high jump from what he read in a book, implementing a style that combined a straddle and a Western roll. The Fosbury Flop wasn't popularized until a decade later.

"(Former UI track coach) Leo Johnson helped me tremendously in both high school and college," Urbanckas told The News-Gazette's Lou Engel in 1986. "Though I came to the University of Illinois on a track scholarship, I also played freshman basketball."

Urbanckas attended dental school in Chicago for a portion of his senior season in 1958 and gave up high jumping following the indoor season. He graduated from UI's medical school in 1961, served a two-year stint in the Air Force and then began his private practice in 1963 in Springfield.

Urbanckas is a member of the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame. His daughter, Debbie, was a four-year starter in volleyball at Missouri. He celebrates his 83rd birthday on Monday.

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Gabe Megginson, football (22)

Monday: Bev Mackes, gymnastics coach

Tuesday: Cam McDonald, baseball (19)

Wednesday: Rob Pullen, baseball (57)

Thursday: Christian Bobak, football (21)

Friday: Jenna Hall, softball

Saturday: Romero Brice, football (50)

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 www.SportsLLL.com.

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