Not All Talk : Former Sprinter Williams Won’t Brag About His Past


Ron Williams knows that it’s human nature to talk about the past, yet there are times when even a laid-back guy like him has to put his foot down.

Williams, 36, is known to most of his fellow co-workers at United Parcel Service as a soft-spoken driver, but there is one employee who knows his past.

He knows that Williams was the first athlete--and one of only two--to win all three boys’ sprint titles in the City Section track and field championships as a Chatsworth High senior in 1977.

He knows Williams set a then-national junior college record of 45.4 seconds in the 400 meters in 1979 and he knows Williams was regarded as one of the nation’s top up-and-coming quarter-milers in 1980 before an injury-hampered junior season at USC signaled the beginning of the end of his athletic career. He knows and there are times when he can’t resist telling those who don’t.

“Every once in a while, he’ll start telling people what I did in high school and college and sometimes I have to say, ‘Enough!’ ” Williams said. “I just don’t like bringing it up. It’s not like they’re bad memories, but I don’t like living in the past. You’ve got to think about the present and the future. I don’t think about what could have happened because you’d just drive yourself crazy if you did that.”

Williams’ wife, Danielle, and sons Rian, 6, and Randall, 3 months, are at the center of Williams’ life now, but there was a time when much of his life revolved around how fast he could circle a track.

Born in Lafayette, La., and raised in Eunice and White Castle, Williams was the fourth of seven children whose father died of cancer when he was 10.

Although he did not compete in organized track until his sophomore year in high school, Williams recalls running relay races on the gravel and dirt roads of his youth. The races would usually pit Williams and his three brothers against their cousins to “see who had the faster family.”

The Williamses usually did and by the time Ron was a junior at White Castle High, he had run “49-something” in the 440 and finished second in the Louisiana State championships.

He intended to complete his high school career at White Castle--located about 20 miles south of Baton Rouge--but family matters drew him to Chatsworth in the summer of 1976.

Williams came to California to help his uncle Clayton and his family move back to Louisiana, but when it became obvious that their departure was going to be delayed until after school began, it was decided that Williams would live with his uncle Ben’s family in Chatsworth.

He initially attended San Fernando High--which brother Larry had attended the previous year--but transferred to Chatsworth in December after tiring of the bus ride to and from school.

He was an unknown athlete when he arrived at Chatsworth, but word soon spread that he was a high-quality sprinter. Williams backed up those rumors during the 1977 track season by posting times of 9.5 seconds in the 100-yard dash, 21.0 in the 220 and 47.01 in the 440.

He won all three events in the City championships, edging Baxter Slaton of University in the 100--both timed 9.9--and posted impressive margins of victory over Percy Smith of Fremont in the 220 (21.1 to 21.4) and 440 (47.4 to 48.2).

“I knew I could do it,” Williams said of the historic triple. “It’s not like I was big-headed or something, but I had raced most of the top guys during the season so it was something that I felt I could do. . . . My only goal going into that meet was to run my best and get to the finish line first in each race.”

Williams had no intention of tripling in the State championships the following week. He knew he lacked the start to keep pace with speedsters such as David Russell of San Diego Patrick Henry in the 100, but his coaches talked him into it and the results were disappointing. He finished sixth in the 100, sixth in the 220 and second in the 440.

“I wanted to run 220 and the 440 or just the 440,” Williams said. “But they wanted me to give it a try so I said, ‘OK.’ ”

Inadequate grades prevented Williams from attending a Division I school, but he had a superb freshman season at Pierce College in 1978. He lowered his personal bests to 20.96 in the 200 meters and 45.79 in the 400, and won the junior college state title in the 400.

He was looking forward to his sophomore season at Pierce, but when Coach Bill Monroe resigned, there was a mass exodus of athletes from the Brahma program and Williams transferred to Long Beach City College.

“When [Monroe] left, I just felt like it was time for me to leave too,” Williams said.

The fact that Sam Caesar, Darryl Davis and Devon Lewis--three members of the Wilmington Banning team that ran a then-national high school record of 3:11.6 in the mile relay in 1978--were headed to Long Beach City drew him to the Viking program under first-year Coach Ron Allice.

Allice, who would guide the Vikings to 11 state titles during his 16 years at Long Beach before becoming the men’s coach at USC, had great rapport with the introverted Williams.

“I’ve just never been one of those guys who trusts a lot of people,” Williams said. “I’ve always been a loner and I’ve always been very picky about my friends. But I felt really comfortable around Coach Allice. He’s the type of guy you could talk to about anything. And if you needed help with something, he would help you. I really liked that.”

Allice describes Williams as a “very kind and gentle person, but I think I knew how to bring out the aggressive side of him on the track.”

Williams’ times of 20.92 in the 200 and 45.4 in the 400 in 1979 backed up that claim. Larry Goldston of Mt. San Antonio beat Williams for the state title in the 400, but Williams’ 45.4 tied for eighth on the United States list that year and 17th on the world list.

His exploits earned him a scholarship to USC, where he joined a Trojan team that included sprinters James Sanford (who ran 10.02 in the 100 and 20.26 in the 200 that season), Billy Mullins (44.84 in the 400) and Bill Green (45.37), but Williams never got untracked.

Bothered by hamstring injuries, questions surrounding Mullins’ junior college grade transcripts that led to him being declared academically ineligible and overwhelmed by the size of the USC campus, Williams struggled to times of 21.2 in the 200 and 46.74 in the 400.

“Looking back on it, I might have been better off going to another school,” said Williams, who also was recruited by Arizona, Arizona State and San Diego State. “There were a lot of rumors that the program might be put on probation because of the Mullins stuff and I just never really felt comfortable there.”

Allice was not surprised. He said that Williams was the kind of athlete who needed to feel needed and who responded better to a pat on the back than a kick in the rear.

Ken Matsuda, the Trojans’ highly successful sprint coach at the time, was not known for coddling his athletes.

“Ron had the type of personality where he might have felt more comfortable being the top dog at a school than being one of a great stable,” Allice said. “I’m not knocking him, but that’s the way Ron was.”

Frustrated by the hamstring injuries and feeling the need to help out his uncle financially, Williams sat out the 1980-81 school year and worked.

He enrolled at Cal State Northridge in the fall of 1981 with a year of eligibility remaining, but his career ended in 1982 when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing basketball.

The year did have its bright spots, however.

He and Danielle, friends since they met at Long Beach City, began dating off and on for the next three years and started living together in 1985. They were married in 1989 and Danielle says Ron is a great family man.

“Kids can get on my nerves from time to time, but he just loves being a father,” Danielle said. “He goes back to Louisiana with Rian for two weeks each year to visit his family and that gives me some time to relax by myself.”