Leapin’ Leonard still is living the dream. One of the most successful track athletes in history, Leonard Jones is the all-time Division III men’s leader with seven NCAA indoor track national titles, including at least one championship in each of his four years of competition with St. Thomas (Minn.).
Jones was raised in the projects of north Minneapolis and earned the Leapin’ Leonard nickname while attending Patrick Henry High School. His first love was basketball and one particular play stands out.
|1992||High Jump||7-1 1/4|
|Long Jump||24-6 1/2|
|1993||Triple Jump||50-6 3/4|
|1994||High Jump||7-0 3/4|
|Long Jump||25-1 1/4|
|Triple Jump||51-10 1/2|
“I got the ball in the lane and there was a 5’6 guard in my way,” Jones recalled. “He tries to take a charge but I literally jumped over this dude and dunked on him. “
The track coach at Patrick Henry took note of Jones’ jumping ability and shortly thereafter Leapin’ Leonard began attracting attention in a second sport. In his senior year, Jones and best friend, Martez Williams, won the Minnesota State Track and Field Championship, accumulating enough points to win the team title all by themselves.
“I was getting letters from some Division I schools, but I thought St. Thomas was the best fit for me because I wanted to play basketball and track and my family could come to my competitions,” Jones said.
That decision paid immediate dividends for the Tommies when freshman Jones won the NCAA long jump title at the 1991 indoor championships.
“As a freshman, I wanted to set the tone for what I wanted to accomplish at the collegiate level, including winning a national title,” says Jones. “But I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
Jones again won the long jump title at the 1992 indoors, while also winning his first collegiate high jump championship. He won the triple jump competition in 1993, and that set the stage for his remarkable performance at the 1994 indoor championships in Oshkosh, Wis. Jones culminated his four-year, indoor-track career by winning national titles in all three jumping competitions — high jump, long jump and triple jump. He remains the only NCAA male athlete in any division to win all three championships in the same year.
“I sometimes have to sit back, pinch myself and wonder if that really was me doing all of that. Way crazy,” Jones said.
For good measure, Jones also won two NCAA outdoor long jump titles in 1992 and 1993.
|1993||Long Jump||25-6 1/4|
“I’m not sure why I seemed to excel more indoors,” Jones said. “I loved competing outdoor more than indoor but living in Minnesota all my life probably played a role. My body seemed to adapt more indoors than being outside.”
His accomplishments as a track star limited Jones’ ability to play basketball at St. Thomas, but he did see some playing time for a couple of years. He also was a member of the football team his junior and senior year, averaging nearly 30 yards a catch, while scoring seven touchdowns on just 17 total receptions.
Jones and his wife, Sherrie, have two sons and a daughter, along with a grandson and goddaughter. In addition to working for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Jones is an accomplished musician who has recorded a CD which he describes as “a little gospel, R&B and jazz.”
He sings, plays a little keyboard, even some drums and guitar and also has hopes of returning to college as a coach.
“I’d love to become an NCAA track coach one day and share my gifts and talents with a new generation of student-athletes,” Jones said.
The dream lives on.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 version of Champion Magazine.