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BRINGING GLORY TO THE VALLEY : WATTS TOPS LIST OF AREA STARS WHO LEFT A MARK.

Byline: Eric Sondheimer Daily News Deputy Sports Editor

Hanging on the wall in Jim Woodard's U.S. history classroom at Taft High School in Woodland Hills is a Nike poster from 1992 of Quincy Watts. As the years go by, some of Woodard's younger students ask, ``Who's that?''

Then Woodard explains how Watts won gold medals in the 400 meters and 4x400 relay at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Suddenly, it starts to register on the students that Watts used to walk the same hallways as they did.

``He was once in a lifetime,'' Woodard said.

The San Fernando Valley has had its share of athletes who went on to Olympic glory, but Watts' performance in 1992 makes him perhaps the greatest of all.

He set an Olympic record in running the 400 meters in 43.50 seconds. He was just four years out of Taft High and still a student at USC when he ran the best race of his life at the most decisive moment as millions watched on television and thousands cheered.

When he returned to Los Angeles wearing his two gold medals around his neck, he was greeted by several hundred adoring fans cheering him at L.A. International Airport.

``I never could have imagined it would be this big,'' he said.

Watts had moved to Woodland Hills from Detroit just before entering high school to live with his father Rufus. He became a prep track star. He was inspired by watching Carl Lewis win four goal medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

As Lewis inspired him, Watts surely has encouraged others to follow in his footsteps. He's not alone in returning to the area as an Olympic hero.

Former Taft High volleyball players Craig Buck and Jeff Stork were members of the 1988 gold-medal volleyball team. Buck and ex-Notre Dame volleyball star Paul Sunderland played for the gold-medal team in 1984. And another ex-Taft player, Marv Dunphy, was head coach of the 1988 team.

Valerie Brisco-Hooks from Cal State Northridge became an overnight celebrity in 1984 when she won gold medals in the 200, 400 and 4x400 relay. Former Kennedy High track star Sherri Howard won her own gold medal in the 4x400 relay during the 1984 Olympics.

In the same L.A. Olympics, former Grant High gymnast Mitch Gaylord helped the U.S. team win the gold medal and won bronze medals in the parallel bars and rings and a silver in the vault. On the U.S. Olympic baseball team that won a silver medal at Dodger Stadium were Canyon High graduate Cory Snyder, Cleveland graduate player Sid Akins and Poly graduate player Flavio Alfaro.

Among the greatest former local Olympians was former Glendale High and USC sprinter Frank Wykoff, who won gold medals in the 400-meter relay at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games.

Ronald Morris of Burbank took the silver medal in the pole vault in 1960 in Rome with an effort of 15 feet, 1 inch.

In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, 16-year-old Cathy Ferguson from Burbank High set a world record in winning the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke.

Watts, now 26 and living in Calabasas, failed to make this year's Olympics. But his place in Valley history is secure for a lifetime.

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Photo: Ex-Taft student Quincy Watts jumped for joy at Barce lona, where he won two golds.

Daily News File Photo
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 16, 1996
Words:573
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Next Article:IT COULD BE HER GOLDEN MOMENT : EX-USC STAR CAN FORESEE PERFECT ENDING.


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