Jesse Bradford, considered one of the best athletes from Kern County who set a national prep record in the hurdles at Shafter High, died Friday morning after a lengthy illness. He was 75.
"This is a sad day for all of us," said Bob Covey, who coached track and field at Bakersfield College from 1962-2005. Bradford was one of Covey's assistant coaches for 20 years.
Bradford broke the national record in the 180-yard low hurdles in 1957, the same year he was the inaugural recipient of the Central Section Prep Track and Field Athlete of the Year award.
Bradford was a 2009 inductee into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame.
Bradford set his record with a time of 18.4 seconds in the 1957 South Sequoia League meet, bettering the previous mark of 18.5 set by Charles Tidwell of Independence (Kan.) High School.
Bradford's mark was never submitted to the national governing body of track at the time. Covey said that probably occurred because Bradford knocked down the final hurdle, and the meet manager evidently thought that eliminated Bradford from record consideration.
Bradford won the state meet in the low hurdles as a senior and was also a two-time Valley champion in the pole vault. He also won the pole vault, low hurdles and 100-yard dash in the high school division of the 1957 West Coast Relays.
Bradford followed that by having one outstanding season with the BC track team, then transferred to Arizona State where he was outstanding in track and football.
He never played football at BC. "Nobody asked me," Bradford said years later.
Despite his explosive speed -- Bradford was the Western Athletic Conference champion in the 100-yard dash and 220-yard low hurdles in 1961 and '62 -- he did not play running back or wide receiver at ASU. He was an offensive guard, and was a two-time All-WAC selection.
After graduating from ASU with a degree in history, Bradford joined the U.S. Army, where he competed in track and football.
After his discharge, Bradford returned to Bakersfield in 1965 to teach at South High. In 1968, after he completed his masters degree, Bradford returned to BC as a history teacher.
The following year, Covey hired him as an assistant track coach. Covey said Bradford was the first African-American coach in BC's history and only the third African-American instructor at the school.
Bradford taught history at BC for 35 years.
"You can say there's a handful of (Kern County) athletes who are the best, and he's right there," said Covey. "And in the history of Bakersfield College, he's a real historical figure.
"And he did it with such class. He was such a nice person, a person you wanted as a role model."
In addition to the Bob Elias Hall of Fame, Bradford was a charter inductee into the Bakersfield College Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1983 and he is a member of the Shafter High Athletic Hall of Fame.
Most of the material reported in this article was compiled by former BC coach Bob Covey.