In February of 1977, I was a 29 year-old kid invited to officiate at my second National Championship event, the USA National Indoor Championships at Madison Square Garden. The Meet Director, Heliodoro Rico, had asked me to join the clerking team and I remember having to take a day off from my job to be at the Garden bright and early at 9 AM to meet with the Chief Clerk of the Course, JOHN GIBSON (1895 - 2006) . Since I was the only neophyte with this crew, John immediately began to give me a graduate level course on the process of clerking a National Championship, and specifically how it was done in Madison Square Garden on its 11-lap to the mile board track.
Understand that there were no computers involved in clerking then. There were entry lists of qualifiers who had to formally declare their entry in an event and fill out an entry card. The entry cards were collected before a time deadline, and then the cards were brought to a seeding table where the cards were used to form the qualifying heats which were then typed up on sheets for use by the clerks, finish line, press steward, and announcers. Once the heats were finalized, the athletes were called in, given their heat and lane assignments, and brought out to the track by a “line clerk”. I “shadowed” John Gibson all through the morning, and he would drill me on what I had learned and ask me questions to make SURE that I understood. At 11 AM he took me on a “coffee break” where he told me I was going to be assigned to assist him on the Men’s 60 meter Hurdles, assist Warren Ring with the Mile run, and then I would be assigned to assist on all the relay events as a line clerk for the second leg of each relay. With our coffee in hand he walked me out to the two spots where I would be delivering relay runners for the handoffs and reviewed with me the specific words I would say as instructions. He had me say them twice. Then he had me practice the signaling process of lap counting to the next leg getting the baton. He watched me do it 3 times! He then smiled broadly, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “OK kid, I think you are now ready to go to work!” It was the beginning of a great experience of working for him and with him for over 20 years.
Johnny Gibson, although born in New York City, was a New Jersey guy through and through. Bloomfield, New Jersey to be exact, where he excelled as a “track man” at Bloomfield High from the age of 13 when he ran his first race. After graduating, he got a job literally running messages on Wall Street while attending Fordham University as a night student. The running helped his track training, and he hurdled park benches as part of it. He became a formidable 440-yard hurdler on the Fordham team, and he won the College 400-meter hurdles at the 1927 Penn Relays in 55.2 seconds, beating Lord David Burghley of Great Britain. After the race, some coaches tried to have Gibson disqualified, contending since he was a night student, he was ineligible. Burghley would have nothing of that, said that Gibson had won fairly, and that he would never accept the first-place medal regardless of what they decided. The matter was dropped.
Later that summer on July 2, Lord Burghley broke the world record for the 440-yard hurdles at :54.2 seconds at a meet in England. That same day Johnny Gibson ran the 400-meter hurdles at the US National Championships in Lincoln, Nebraska and broke Burghley’s world record set that same day by running :52.6 seconds.
Johnny made the US Olympic team in 1928. In the Amsterdam Games of that era, only 6 men went to the finals and Johnny was eliminated after the semi-finals. David Burghley won the gold medal tying the Olympic record at :53.4.
After retiring from racing at age 32, Johnny got into coaching, first as an assistant at Fordham and after the War from 1945 to 1972 as the Head Coach at Seton Hall University. While there he had some strong teams and a lot of fine athletes. Most notably, he was instrumental in the development of world class sprinter Andy Stanfield, who won two gold medals at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, and a silver at the Melbourne Games of 1956.
While doing all this, Johnny was raising a family, but also finding the time to officiate. He was the chief clerk of the course at the Millrose Games for 50 years, as well as the US Indoor Championships (AAU & TAC), IC4A’s, the Penn Relays, and countless other events. Any meet held in the Garden was going to be run “on time” as long as Johnny Gibson was controlling the flow of the meet. And control it he did! Even if he was clerking a dual meet, he would only deliver the athletes to the starter when there was two minutes before the start time. He did not want an early start; nor a late one. You had to be “on time”.
In the early 80’s when the Metropolitan Athletics Congress organized its officials, Johnny got one of his former Seton Hall athletes, Frank Bailey, to organize and train the group. He was also a founding member of the New Jersey Track and Field Officials’ Association. He has been honored as a member of many Halls of Fame – Fordham University, Seton Hall University, The Helms Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Sports Authority, the Garden State Hall of Fame, and the Bloomfield Hall of Fame.
Well now it is our great honor to have him join our own “Metropolitan” Officials’ Hall of Fame!
In 2002, John was quoted by Frank Litsky in the New York Times as saying, “If you’re a track man, you’re a good man”.
His own words said it all it all about John A. Gibson.