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I didn’t want to let Roswell down

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Former Baylor track coach Danny Brabham talks to one of his student-athletes during a track meet in 2008. (Baylor Athletic Communications Photo)

Danny Brabham was ahead of his time as a track athlete. Brabham dominated track at Roswell in 1969, and later at Baylor University. At the time not many athletes competed in the decathlon in high school and it wasn’t available in the Southwest Conference when he ran track at Baylor.

Decathlon is a two-day event in which competitors compete in the 100 meters, the long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 meters for day one. On day two are the 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and the 1500-meter run.

“If they (Southwest Conference) would have had a decathlon in the conference at that time, I would have been a decathlete,” Brabham said. “They only had that a couple of meets in the summers during that period of time. They have it now for the kids. If they had it then, that would have been the route I would have taken.”

A photo of Danny Brabham competing in track. (Submitted Photo)

Brabham, in his senior year at Roswell, set the broad jump record with a jump of 22-feet-2 1/2 inches and still holds the long jump record with a mark of 23-feet-10 1/2 inches. At state, he set state and high school records in the long jump with 23-feet-10 1/2 inches and the pole vault with 14-feet-1/2 inch. In his senior year, he was voted Outstanding Athlete.

As a young kid, Brabham told his mother he was going to go to school on a track scholarship, or he wasn’t going to be able to go. Brabham remembers practicing his jumping at home on Indian Avenue with some of his buddies. They would put some 2x4s in the ground and nail them in, and pole vault on a piece of 3/4-inch pipe in the side yard of his house.

“I just had a really great time growing up in Roswell,” Brabham said. “It was a laid-back time and I had a lot of great friends that I’m still in contact with, some of the guys I played football and ran track with. I remember every time our teams went somewhere we had a uniform we wore when we played sports.

“It really excited me to represent Roswell High School, and I didn’t want to let Roswell or coach Lair down. I put everything I had on the line every time I went out there.”

Brabham wanted to emulate track coach Stan Lair. Lair impressed him with the way he treated not only him, but other athletes. He liked the way coach Lair used his knowledge to help his team win track meets.

“Coach Lair is the one that steered me toward the profession (teaching). He’s the one I looked up too more than anyone else,” Brabham said. “He kept me on a straight line and was a really good coach. He was one of those that you didn’t want to disappoint.”

During his senior year, Brabham had to choose between Baylor, Eastern New Mexico, SMU, Arkansas, University of New Mexico and Oklahoma. Brabham liked Baylor because it was a small school with 7,000 students and reminded him of Roswell.

Brabham accepted a scholarship from legendary Baylor coach Clyde Hart. Hart would coach Olympic champions to gold medals in Michael Johnson (1996, 2000) and Jeremy Wariner (2004), and Brabham would serve as their strength coach.

A photo of Danny Brabham, second from right, competing on the 440 yard relay team. (Submitted Photo)

As an athlete, Brabham was Baylor’s first All-American and holds the school record for the long jump with a mark of 26-feet-9 1/2 inches. He also won the U.S. Track & Field Federation indoor and outdoor national championships in 1971, and was sixth in the long jump at the 1973 NCAA Outdoor Championships, earning his second All-American honor. Brabham also won back-to-back Southwest Conference titles in the long jump in 1972-73 and set the school record of 26-feet-9 1/2 inches at a meet in College Station in 1973. Brabham finished second in the long jump behind USC’s Henry Hines at the 1971 NCAA Indoor Championships.

“That made me feel really good,” Brabham said. “I knew at that point I could do something really special. I jumped 25-feet-2 inches at that meet. I got second behind Henry Hines and he was an Olympian, so that made me feel really good that I could move on and improve my skills.”

Because of his exploits as an athlete, Brabham was inducted into the Baylor Hall of Fame in 1991 and was inducted in the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame in 2017. Hart still calls Brabham “the best all-around track athlete he’s ever coached.”

The only thing Brabham did better than run track was coach it. During his coaching career, he coached 43 All-American, 36 school record-holders and a pair of NCAA champions in triple jumper Stacey Bowers and hurdler Bayano Kamani. In 2001, Kamani and Michael Smith became the first and only duo in history to finish 1-2 in the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Before heading to Baylor, Brabham coached at Hobbs as the cross country and track coach for four years. He spent four years at Georgetown (Texas) High School. Three years (1977-80) at Goddard and four years at Odessa (Texas) Crockett Junior High School.

Brabham spent 44 years coaching, the last 28 at Baylor starting in 1989. He retired after the 2017 season. Brabham retired because there are other things he wants to do. The coaching, he says, puts such a time restraint on him, and family is and was his number one priority in life. On the collegiate level, the time was unbelievable. Brabham would often leave on Wednesday for a meet and come back home on Sunday. A national championship would have him leaving a week-and-a-half before meets. During track season he would put in 12-16 hours a day.

If kids think they can compete at the Division I level, Brabham believes there should be no guesswork about where an athlete fits in or where he can compete successfully. With computers, all an athlete has to do is look at the list and events in the conference at the school they want to go to. If they see they are not close to competing at that level with times, then an athlete needs to go look at the next level at a second- or third-tier school.

The track and field results reporting system has a great area for an athlete to go look at every event at every conference, at every level, and see where they would fit in.

“Sometimes it’s a big letdown,” Brabham said. “We have tons of kids that send us letters, call us and email to ask us to take a look at them. When we look at them we see they aren’t even close to competing at our level. We don’t want to tell them that, but they need to recognize that. Now, with computers, an athlete can see everything.”

First and foremost, when Brabham was recruiting athletes he would look at an athlete’s academics. He knew there was a lot of work a coach had to do to keep an athlete eligible.

The second thing Brabham looked at was what type of athlete they were. Going into houses, he could tell pretty quick if an athlete was interested in going to school and if could they compete at the conference level. He also looked to see if an athlete improved during the season or if they became stagnant in their performance. Brabham wanted to know how well an athlete was coached.

“I did a very, very good job as a coach,” Brabham said. “I think all of the kids I coached, when they made it and placed in a conference meet, or national championship, or became a national champion. There were times when you’re working them out and they are dying, or throwing up, that they are questioning themselves, if they want to do this. When they finally reach the point they do want to do this, they recognize what you did for them, help them get to that point. I helped them achieve their goals and I’m very proud of what I’ve done on that level.”

According to Brabham, all great athletes have a huge work ethic and want to excel in their events, but more importantly, wants to be coached.

“Danny was a great athlete,” Baylor coach Todd Harbour said. “He was a great coach and a tireless worker, and a great technician as a coach. Baylor is a special place because of him.”

Brabham and his wife, Debbie, have two children, Brian, a professor at UMHB, who was a former decathlete for his dad; and daughter Heather. They have five grandchildren: Tommy and Tori Brabham and Brady, Neeley and Cami Farnum.