Gaines, Johns A Blazing Pair 20 Years Ago

Posted: March 21, 1987

Bill "Peanut" Gaines vs. Eddie Johns.

Twenty years ago this spring, that rivalry created intense interest among South Jersey track fans, and once attracted a crowd of nearly 4,000 onlookers at Deptford High for the Gloucester County Championships.

Gaines, a speedster from Clearview Regional High, and Johns, the former Kingsway High sprinter, met head-to-head just three times during their scholastic careers.

The two close friends, whose schools were less than five miles apart, were occasionally the subject of debate as to which was the faster of the two, although by the end of 1967, Gaines had clearly settled that question.

The arguments were fueled by the fact that Gaines and Johns routinely assaulted state and national records in the 100- and 220-yard dashes.

At the height of his career, Gaines three times bettered the national high school record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard dash set in 1933 by the legendary Jesse Owens.

In May 1967, Gaines sprinted to a 9.3-second timing in defeating Johns, who ran a 9.6, in the Gloucester County Championships at Deptford High.

Gaines earlier had run a 9.3 at the Olympic Conference Championship meet at West Deptford High, defeating Hal "Doc" Williams of Edgewood.

He repeated the record in the New Jersey State Group 2 championship meet and ran 9.3 again - with wind assistance - at the Golden West Meet in Sacramento, Calif.

"How many kids do you coach like Peanut who break national records?" asked Charlie Way, Gaines' coach at Clearview and a former track coach at Gloucester County College.

"People just couldn't wait to see him run. And he gave them their money's worth."

In the winter of 1966, Gaines ran the 60-yard dash in an world indoor record time of 5.9 seconds at the National AAU Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. Later that year, he placed fifth in the 100 at the National AAU Outdoor Championships in New York.

"He was a cocky kid when he was up against the better runners, like Eddie Johns and Doc Williams, or when he was in the AAU meets," Way said. "It seemed the more notoriety he got, the better he was."

Gaines, who now resides in San Jose, Calif., attended Clearview through his junior year and finished high school in San Jose.

Kingsway's Johns, meanwhile, often ran in Gaines' shadow - he lost all three meetings between the two - but was nonetheless one of South Jersey's most productive sprinters of the decade.

In 1966, Johns set a then-state record when he recorded a 9.6 time in the 100 yards during the state Group 1 Championship Meet at Highland Park.

But Johns was able to bask in the glory of his new record for a mere five minutes. Gaines' race, in the Group 2 100-yard final, immediately followed Johns' and Gaines, then a sophomore, sprinted to a time of 9.5 to set a new state record.

"Believe it or not, it never bothered me that I had a record for only five minutes," Johns said. "For some reason, I knew Peanut would run about the same time I would. I sort of expected it in those days."

Johns, who also starred for Kingsway in basketball, won two state Group 1 championships in the 100 yards and set Tri-County Conference and South Jersey Group 1 records in both the 100 and 220 during his career.

He later ran track at Eastern Kentucky University and has been employed by SmithKline Beckman in Philadelphia as a materials handler for 15 years.

"I remember the night before that big Gloucester County meet in 1967 how Peanut and I got together and had a pretty close call," said Johns, who resides in Swedesboro.

"We were out riding around in a car, laughing and talking about the big race the next day. I remember how our car suddenly skidded off the road. Luckily, the accident was only minor and we had our race anyway."

Johns has no regrets about competing in Gaines' shadow.

"I guess I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "But I enjoyed the competition. Running against someone like Peanut Gaines always makes you a better athlete and a better human being. I'll never forget those days."

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