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High school state champ back in winner’s circle after 43 years

High school state champ back in winner’s circle after 43 years
High school state champ back in winner’s circle after 43 years | Tommy Jernigan, Union City High School track, Union City, track, Senior Olympics

Tommy Jernigan of Union City is again a state champion.
Once a state champion, always a state champion.

For Union City resident Tommy Jernigan, that statement and his track and field career recently came full circle.

Jernigan won the state championship in the 10-event decathlon in 1964 during his senior season at Union City High School.

On the weekend of July 20-21, history repeated itself as the local man brought home a state championship in the shot put event from the Tennessee State Senior Olympics games in Franklin. Jernigan also added a second place finish in the discus at a mark of 137 feet.

“I missed the competition,” Jernigan told The Messenger. “The Senior Olympics seemed more social than competition. Everybody seemed to know each other and I was the newcomer. I went up there to win and compete.”

As a junior in high school, Jerngian set the then-state record for shot put in the decathlon with a mark near 51 feet in 1963. His top throw was 53 during his high school career. Just over a month back, the 61-year-old competitor tossed the metal ball 41 feet for the top honors. That’s four decades later and just 12 feet taken off his max throw.

However, he insists that he had no training leading to the event.

“The first time I’d thrown the shot put in years was when I was at district,” Jernigan said. “And the second was at state. I’m going to try to actually train this year and hopefully break some records next year as I was barely below them without any training this year.

“I know I can’t do what I could back in 1964, ’65 or ’66 when I was younger, but I can sure do a lot better than I did this year.”

What would be the motivation for one to “throw” themselves back into a sport that they had not been a part of for many years, one might ponder?

The former University of Tennessee at Knoxville defensive standout in football — who also tossed the shot put his freshman and sophomore years in Knoxville — concedes that his grandchildren had something to do with his getting back into the track and field scene.

“My grandchildren are coming along and getting older, and I want to teach them how to throw the discus and shot put,” Jernigan said. “I didn’t want to forget how to do it.”

Passing along the track and field “bug” has been a constant for the Jernigan family. Three of Tommy’s six children took part in track activities at UCHS.
Jernigan’s daughter Jenny (Hurt) and sons Wright and Jack each doned the Purple-and-Gold thinclads.

Jenny was a two-time TSSAA Class A-AA girls’ state champion (1989-90) in discus with brother Wright winning the boys’ state crown in the shot put in ’89.

Wright is following in his father’s footsteps as a volunteer track and field coach for the Tornadoes this year.

“My dad was and has always been my idol,” he said. “I just hope I can continue to carry on the tradition that he began.”

And Tommy’s wife Linda is now looking to get in the track and field fold.

“She threw for the heck of it in Franklin and, had she been participating, she would have placed,” Jernigan boasts.

He may have even gotten his 77-year-old mother-in-law, Wilma Morris, ready to take part and put her best “foot” forward in the power walk compeitions.

With the family joining in, Jernigan is keeping his eye on the individual prize.

“There was one guy up there who was very competitive and he beat me in the discus. I beat him in the shot put,” Jernigan explains. “We were very close in every event and he works out.

“I’m anxious to beat him next year.”

Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at

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