A Leap into Legend: The Story of Howard Bostock '18 and Gettysburg's Oldest Record

Bostock_Howard_Penn_Relays_1914
The 1914 Penn Relay mile relay team. Bostock is standing to the right of coach Doyle Leathers.

There are many, many records associated with sports. Some come and go with the wind, while others stand the test of time against all the odds. The latter holds true for the longest-standing record at Gettysburg College, set by a man who was here one minute and then gone the next.
 
Born on Oct. 30, 1892 in Wilmerding, Pa., Howard Bostock '18 attended Gettysburg's prep academy during the spring of 1914. At that time, prep students were permitted to play for the varsity teams if they were found so outstanding. Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Eddie Plank is Gettysburg's most famous case, starting on the baseball team while attending the academy in 1900.
 
Bostock quickly garnered the attention of track coach Doyle Leathers '13, who saw enough promise in the prep student to include him on the roster for the annual Penn Relays Carnival, which included a series of races featuring some of the top runners in the nation. Gettysburg had turned in strong races in the past, finishing second in 1897, 1911, and 1912, but never before had a team of Gettysburg runners won a race at the event.

That fact changed in late April, 1914, as Bostock steered the quartet to victory in its class of the mile relay, clocking in at 3:40.25. The four men received gold watches for the win and according to The Gettysburgian, the College newspaper, the team's success was lauded with "old college bell" being put to use for some time. Gettysburg would go another 28 years before another victory at the Penn Relays.
 
Less than a month later, history would be made again, and Bostock's legend would grow.
 
According to The Gettysburgian it was a windy day at Nixon Field when the Gettysburg track team hosted Bucknell University on May 23, 1914. Gettysburg easily won the meet, taking 13 of the 14 events to post a team score of 83-13.
 
The school paper said "the distances were hard to run," but apparently the elements had little effect on Bostock as he turned in school records in both the 100-yard dash (9.8 seconds) and 220-yard dash (21.8 seconds). Those events were not the highlight of the meet, however.
 
There's no way to determine if the wind was against or with the prep star, but either way his mark in the broad jump was anything less than historic. He shattered the school record, clearing 23 feet, 3.5 inches. Little was made of the mark in the paper, other than the fact it set the school record and bettered the mark of runner-up Charles Shauck '14, who also broke the school record with a leap of 21 feet, six inches –21.5 inches short of Bostock.
 
To put the record into context, Bostock's jump would have put him a few inches short of a bronze medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden and it would have landed him a silver medal in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.
 
"It is an amazing record," said Ed Riggs '77, former student-athlete and former Gettysburg College head track and field coach who has held the school's steeplechase record for 37 years. "There is no doubt Bostock was as close to world class as any Gettysburg athlete ever was in their own time."
 
After completion of his preparatory curriculum, Bostock enrolled as a freshman at Gettysburg for the 1914-15 academic year. He dabbled in basketball during the winter months and prepped for the outdoor track season by participating in an indoor meet at Johns Hopkins University. He placed second in the 100-yard dash with The Gettysburgian quick to point out the lack of training and conditioning he had going into the event. 
 
Bostock was unable to lead Gettysburg to another win at the Penn Relays. Following its win from the year before, the team was bumped up to a higher class and finished fourth. Bostock did his part, turning in a time of 50.2 seconds during his run.
 
The first-year remained at the top of his game in a meet with the University of Delaware at Nixon Field. He tied his record in the 100-yard dash and he reset the mark in the 220-yard dash at 21.4 seconds. Bostock won the broad jump in dominating fashion, finishing just shy of his school record at 23 feet, 2 1/5 inches.
 
Just a week later, Bostock took center stage at the third annual Middle Atlantic States Intercollegiate Track and Field Carnival, the forbearer of the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC). Gettysburg finished fifth overall with 16 points, with all but one tally coming from Bostock.
 
Bostock set two conference records with wins in the 100-yard dash (10.2 seconds) and 220-yard dash (21.6 seconds). He was unable to set the mark in the broad jump due to an injury in the trials, but he still won the event. His distance was not recorded in the paper.
 
Praise was heaved upon Bostock by the school paper:
 
"It is a great honor to Gettysburg to have such a man to represent the College. Every student, alumnus, and friend of the school should realize that this man has already done great things for Gettysburg in the world of sports. In the next few years as Bostock develops to an even better state of efficiency, the track fame of our College should rival that of almost any school in the country. Bostock has already put us in the forefront, and the leading athletic authorities of this country say that his career has just begun. The future seems bright for him and for Gettysburg."
 
Those sentiments fell by the wayside in the next year. Despite being listed as a captain for the track team for much of the year, Bostock was absent from the roster come the spring. The track preview in late March noted his loss, simply stating "Howard Bostock will be greatly missed in the sprints."
 
That was the end of Bostock's career at Gettysburg College. His legacy lived on in the form of his seemingly unbreakable records. His mark in the 100-yard dash was eventually broken by Bill Everhart '43 in 1940, while his 220-yard record held for 50 years until Don Ardinger '67 came along.
 
While the records on the track eventually met their demise, the long jump mark has stood  for 100 years, making it one of the longest-standing records in the nation. Rarely has the distance been challenged at Gettysburg with only one competitor coming within a foot in the last four decades. Jim Kiick '60 ranks second with a leap of 22 feet, nine inches, while rising junior David Kaiser sits third at 22 feet, seven inches.
 
"Howard Bostock's record is really quite impressive and amazing, not only considering the time period in which it was achieved," said current head track and field coach Aubrey Shenk, "but also in the fact that it has stood the test of time more than any other track and field record at Gettysburg College."
 
Gettysburg second-oldest track and field record was achieved by Bob Linders '64 in the 880-yard run (converted to 800 meters) in 1964 – 50 years after Bostock notched his record distance.
 
According to historical records, Bostock was employed as a rancher in Wyoming when he went off to fight in World War I. After the war, he returned to his roots, gaining employment in the steel mills in western Pennsylvania. He was married twice and fathered three children.
 
Bostock remained in the steel industry until retiring in the 1950s and moving to Florida. That's where he passed away on January 4, 1972 at the age of 79. He was buried in the Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Cemetery.
 
In 1978, Bostock was one of 29 inductees into the inaugural class of the Gettysburg College Hall of Athletic Honor, joining his former coach Leathers, Plank, and some of the greatest athletes to ever don the orange and blue.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college, which enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students, is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Corey Jewart, associate director of athletic communications

Posted: Tue, 27 May 2014

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