Kenai's Bruce Jackman won three state titles in the long jump in the 1980s. Now his son Josh has a chance to equal the three-peat this month. Photo credit Peninsula Clarion
Bruce Jackman didn’t set out for his son Josh to become Kenai’s next great long jumper, but that’s how it turned out.
“I didn’t talk about it much, but we’d go watch high school games and he’d see his dad’s name up on the board and he’d tell me he was going to take my name off the board,” Bruce told me. “He kind of set that mark. I didn’t push him toward at it.”
Nostalgia intrigued Josh to follow his father’s footsteps and three decades later he will try to match his old man’s record of winning three state championships in the long jump.
“He was definitely why I did track,” Josh told me.
Bruce earned a three-peat in 1986, 1987 and 1988, back when the ASAA state track meet was just getting started. He also won a state title in the triple jump in 1987 and later accepted a scholarship to the University of Kansas.
Josh is a two-time defending state champion headed to the University of Alaska Anchorage. He will go for his three-peat in the long jump at the ASAA state meet at the end of the month.
Nobody will be pulling for him more than his dad.
“Hopefully he gets my name off that long jump mark,” Bruce said.
Bruce was a tough act to follow. He set the standard for the sport in the 1908s and holds the school record of 23 feet, 11.5 inches set the standard for the sport in the 1980s.
He never surpassed 22 feet at the state meet, however. Josh did last year with a PR of 22-3.
“I’ve always jumped better at state than he did, but his overall record is still more than a foot farther than mine,” Josh said. “He was definitely really good.”
Good enough to earn a scholarship to Kansas. However, he never set out to become Kenai’s greatest long jumper. He discovered his hidden skills almost by chance.
“It was one of those deals you didn’t know you were good at it until you tried it. You see some success, try a little harder and have more success,” Bruce said. “Alaska is probably the worst place in the world to try and be a track and field athlete. You get a couple of shots of making great marks and if you don’t do it in those opportunities, you’re done; the season is over.”
In spite of a small sample size, Kansas came calling and he competed for the Big Eight school for two years. As a freshman, he logged his PR of 23-4.
“Coming from Alaska, where you’re really good, and you get to college and you’re really average … I did it for two years and then realized track was coming to an end and I really needed to become a better student and get my engineering degree,” Bruce said. “I gave up scholarship and got my degree.”
He probably assumed his track and field days were over. Then Josh came along.
Josh became interested in track in middle school and quickly discovered how good his dad was back in the day.
“I’d hear things from other people,” he said.
In some ways, the long jump brought the father and son closer together. Josh wanted to be just like his dad; in fact, he wanted to be better. And his dad wanted the same thing.
“I’ve always trusted him and listened to him. I’ve never, like, doubted his word, just because I know how good he was,” Josh said. “I’ve wanted to have that same success or even more. He’s always been so supportive of me.”
When Josh won his first state championship as a sophomore, he wasn’t thinking three-peat. He didn’t realize the magnitude of the moment until he saw his dad, who attends every meet.
“He was just so proud and happy, I couldn’t even put into words,” Josh said. “He started to tear up a few times and he has this look on his face where I can tell how proud he is.”
When he competes, Josh has a look on his face that reminds his mom of what his dad looked like when he competed. The comparisons don’t stop there.
“He’s got a better stride, but his first couple years he was gliding in the long jump. I never did. I hitch-kicked, and then one day he just started doing that and his distances increased significantly too. Since he’s doing that I see a lot of similarities,” Bruce said.
“My wife notices the weird things he does with him mouth or whatever. It reminds her of pictures of me when I was in high school.”
Despite Bruce’s credentials in the sport, he prefers to be a spectator and not a coach. He has no interest to play arm-chair long jumper.
“I get to just sit back and be a dad,” he said.
At the same time, Kenai jumping coach Jesse Settlemeyer will tap into Bruce’s wealth of knowledge once in a while.
“He’ll bounce things off me, but they have a great relationship,” Bruce said. “Coach Settlemeyer and Coach Hanson have done a great job with him.”
Josh credited Settlemeyer for building his confidence and helping him achieve his goals.
“Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have won state two times without him,” the 19-year-old said. “I think my dad knows we have a good relationship and he’s a good coach leading me in the right direction. My dad never tries to be coach.”
Approaching his final takeoff in the long jump, Josh admitted he was starting to feel pressure to live up to his reputation, and that of his family name.
“The past two years I really felt no pressure to win, but to win three times in a row … I’ve definitely felt more pressure this year to keep progressing and keep getting farther, which is a struggle sometimes,” he said.
The good news is that he’s got his dad in his corner. And he knows a thing or two [or three] about winning the long jump.
“I don’t need to encourage him much, remind him much. He knows not every day is his day, so he has to work through it, ride with it, stay after it and it will come back around,” Bruce said.
“The last couple weeks his sprinting has really taken off. He’s just knocking tenths-of-a-second off every time he gets on the track. It’s really starting to dial in for him. I think he’s starting to feel a lot better, a lot more confident, and that just builds on itself. I don’t have to say anything to him other than, ‘Enjoy the moment.’”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.