Fledgling Lincoln High began to create its great athletic legacy after Luther Hayes, a vital member of San Diego high’s 1955 Southern California championship team, transferred to the young school at 49th Street and Imperial Avenue.
Hayes 78, who passed on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by his wife, Anita, and family at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, starred in football, basketball and track and field at Lincoln, was a standout in football and track at USC, and played on the first Chargers team in San Diego in 1961.
Hayes, who was born in Houston and came to San Diego at age 5, was a starting end as a sophomore on Lincoln’s first varsity team in 1954.
Hayes transferred to San Diego after the football season and competed in track and field for the Cavers, finishing fifth in the Southern California broad jump competition in Ontario, at 22 feet, 1 inch.
Hayes was an offensive and defensive end on the 1955 San Diego team that posted an 11-0-1 record and was declared the national champion by a New York publication.
A dramatic play in the Cavers’ march to the title that season came in a game that Anaheim tied, 20-20, late in a semifinals struggle at Long Beach Veterans’ Stadium.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 190-pound Hayes had gotten his hand up and deflected an attempted point after following Anaheim’s first touchdown in the fourth quarter. If successful, the Colonists would have won the game, 21-20.
Hayes’ family (and that of San Diego teammate David Grayson) moved during the ’55-56 school year, back into the Lincoln district.
Luther helped Lincoln post a 20-4 record in basketball and he won the first of two Southern California broad jump championships, overcoming a markedly short runway at Inglewood with a 22-foot, 9 ¾-inch, effort. He had set the City Prep League meet record of 23-9 ½ three weeks before.
Hayes was all-City as a fullback on the ’56 Lincoln team, its leading scorer in basketball and, defeated favored Preston Griffin with a 23-11 broad jump in the track finals at Ontario Chaffey.
Hayes finished fourth with a jump of 24 feet, 1/8 inch in the state meet at Chico in 1956 and won the event the following year at 23-8 ½ at Edwards Field in Berkeley.
The first athlete from Lincoln to be recruited by USC, Luther earned two varsity letters before an injury slowed his senior season, but he etched his name in Trojans’ lore in 1958 when he returned a kickoff 74 yards for a game-tying touchdown as underdog USC battled UCLA to a 15-15 standoff.
Hayes won the national collegiate championship in the hop, step, and jump in 1960 and ’61, and set a NCAA meet record of 51-2 ¼. He still ranks among all-time USC leaders with a 25-6 ¼ broad jump and 51-9 ½ in the event that became known as the triple jump.
Drafted by the NFL Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Chargers of the AFL, Hayes opted to sign with the hometown team and played one season, catching 14 passes for a 20-yard average and three touchdowns.
Luther went on the coach and educate in Los Angeles in a career that lasted 40 years.
He is remembered as an athlete that came up big in the big games and meets and as the gentleman Lincoln student who always had time for anyone, no matter their status on campus.