By Steve Keenan
Tom Mason feels Robert Collins Jr. should be near the top of the list when a history of West Virginia’s best high school track sprinters is discussed.
Collins, a member of the Collins High School Class of 1967, died on Saturday, Jan. 19.
“He was extraordinary, so well-gifted in track,” recalled Mason, who coached Collins in the 1960s. “He could have excelled in other sports” but his main focus was on track, said Mason.
Collins was a member of the fifth induction class of the Oak Hill High School Hall of Fame.
As a sophomore in 1966, Collins won the Class AAA 100-yard dash (10.0 seconds) and 220-yard dash (22.8) to announce himself in state track and field circles.
He proved those performances weren’t flukes, returning to the state level in 1967 and capturing the triple-A high point award. Collins won the 220 with a clocking of 21.6 seconds, which broke a standard that had stood since 1931, and he also legged out a win in the one-lap, 440-yard race (49.9). Additionally, he was runner-up in the 100. According to his hall of fame biographical information, he earlier had equaled the state record of 9.8 seconds in the 100 at the prestigious Gazette Relays.
Mason says he takes at least some of the blame for Collins not winning the 100 that year. “I told him he could probably win the long jump (then the broad jump), too, and win three events.” Instead, Collins got injured while jumping and had to withdraw from that event.
It may have derailed him slightly in the 100, but Mason said Collins ran strong in the 440 despite having some problems in the last 50 yards. “He limped in and ran 49.9.”
Collins, also a football player for the Red Devils, was too old to compete in high school track during his senior campaign, but Mason remembers him running in the 100, 220 and 440 in an all-comers meet at Ohio State which featured a strong field. “He won two of them, and he was going against college material,” said Mason.
Collins competed in the sprints for one year at Southern (La.) University, and Mason said he ran on a successful relay with Willie Davenport, the gold medalist in the 110-yard hurdles in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
Collins served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 1977.
His funeral services were held on Friday, Jan. 25 at Faith Tabernacle Missionary Outreach for Christ in Fayetteville.
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