Spotlight on Former Athlete: Harold Porter - Track & Field 1972-75, Football 1974 - April, 2021
By Bruce Brown
BATON ROUGE – Harold Porter takes things a little more slowly these days, after receiving two artificial knees last year.But there was a time when Porter was one of the fastest humans in America, if not the world.
Quite simply, if he was even, he was leavin'.
Porter was the star sprinter in UL's Ragin' Cajun track and field program from 1972-75 under coach Bob Cole.
A student who had to be talked into athletics in football and track at East Jefferson High in metropolitain New Orleans, Porter became a record-breaking standout.
“I was one of 18 Black students chosen to integrate East Jefferson, instead of John Martin, the Black school,” Porter said. “My mom wanted to make sure I got a good education. There was one bus that took us to school.
“I got into sports by running sprints. Actually I missed the President's Council on Physical Fitness test, and Coach told me I had to stay after school and run. The track team was out there running sprints.
“I took off my socks and shoes, no (starting) blocks, and ran on that cinder track. They got out in front of me, but I passed them all. Coach said I ran a 10.5 100 yards, barefoot, and that I should come out for track.
“I told them, no way, I can't miss my bus. They said they would make sure I got home.”
Clearance was granted from Porter's mom, and a career was born that eventually included membership in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
In Porter's junior year, Black schools In Louisiana merged athletically with the LHSAA, and that had its own dramatic moments.
“The state meet was at South Terrebonne, and I was the only Black kid in the meet,” Porter recalled. “People threatened to kill me. There was a sheriff's deputy with us. As a sprinter, you only want to hear one gunshot.
“I won the 100 (9.7 seconds) and the 220 (21.3), and we won both (4x110, 4x220) relays.”
Speed converted to football
Porter was also coaxed into playing football at EJ, as more and more Black students began to attend the school and coaches needed a leader to bridge the cultural gap.
He played defensive back and receiver, ranking second on the team in tackles behind, defensive end Thielen Smith and zooming 105 yards with an interception return, as well as providing a world class target on offense.
Porter and the legendary Mike Miley (quarterback, safety) were the only players going both ways,
“Mike Miley was the best athlete I've ever seen, of any race, in my life,” said Porter, whose remarkable speed got even better as he posted bests of 9.3 and 20.6 as a high school senior.
Not surprisingly, he was on more than a dozen recruiting lists. You can improve through technique and training, but you can't manufacure pure speed.
“I was in the governor's mansion three times, with Gov. McKeithen, wanting me to go to LSU,” Porter said,”but I didn't like the pressure LSU put on me. Besides, they had Al Coffee. I heard from Tennessee, Texas, and I really liked Arizona.
“It's tough for a football player to play just anywhere. It can be tough playing quarterback. You've got to find the right kind of kids. But track is not a team sport. You'll face anybody, anywhere. The only difference is the clock.
“I'm running to win.”
Home away from home
Finally Porter decided on USL, Lafayette, Cole and the Cajuns.
“My mom had gotten ill, and I wanted to be close to home,” he said. “I loved Lafayette, and Coach Cole impressed my mom on his visit.”
Once at UL, Porter became fast friends with fellow sprinter Pat Gullett.
“We roomed together, stayed in the same dorm for 5 years,” Porter said. ”Pat was probably the star of our team. I was faster, but he was stronger and worked harder. He could run anything, any distance.”
The Cajuns won the Southland Conference title in Porter's sophomore year,as he worked his 100 time down to 9.2 before the advent of metric distances for running events.
The 1973 NCAA Championships were held at LSU, and Porter reached the 100-meter finals. He also helped the Cajuns to a third-place 39.9 in the 4x100 relay, running next to Southern Cal.
UL also won the SLC in 1974, but was prevented from the NCAA meet by probation based in basketball,
Much of the attention earned by those USL teams came in the sprint relay. Cole, wishing to jump-start the quartet, put Porter on the lead leg, out of the blocks. Porter handed the baton to Gullett, followed by Aaron Thompson, with Don Credeur the anchor.
They ran a 39.9 at the NCAA Meet of Champions and lowered that to 39.6 in a meet in El Paso, Texas.
“In the NCAA at LSU, Pat told me to add two steps to my mark, and that he wasn't going to wait on me,” Porter said. “He said we were going to make or break it there. One step after he got the stick, he was out of the zone. I just sat on the track and watched the rest of the race.”
Swift anchors nipped the Cajuns at the wire, but they took it to the limit.
“We expected to do well as a team,” Porter said. “We earned respect.”
One more fling at football
As a senior in 1974, Porter enjoyed one more season of football under new coach Augie Tammariello,
The highlight came when Porter sailed a school-record 95 yards with a bomb from Randy Fontenot in a 21-20 homecoming win over Tennessee-Chattanooga at Cajun Field.
He was then drafted by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in 1975, and was the only rookie in camp with a college degree.
“I ran a kickoff back in an exhibition game against Houston, and people were hitting me from everywhere,” Porterr said. “I said I don't plan to ever get hit like this again. There's the longevity aspect to football.
“I have no regrets, though.”
Instead, Porter became a world traveler through track and field. He competed at the World University Games in Moscow, enjoyed a memorable time on a 1973 international tour of China, and went to special events in Paris, London and other sites.
“I've travaled a lot,” Porter said. “I traveled around the world, and didn't have to pay a dime.”
“I was there with 125 others in China. “They filmed everything we did, including practice. They wanted to know how we did things. We went to Canton for a week,to Shang Hai, and Peking. Which is Beijing now. I was late getting back to school after that trip.
“There was one period when I didn't see my mom for a year.”
Retired 10 years ago after 25 years as a salesman for Johnson & Johnson, Porter retains season tickets to Ragin' Cajun football and basketball, He remains close to the school that gave him a chance to shine on the world stage..
Once he got there, he didn't waste a second in making it count.