The mid- to late 1970s were a golden era for hurdling in the New York-New Jersey area. Names like Renaldo Nehemiah, Paul Lankford and Art Monk – all future NFL stars – are well known to track followers as among the top schoolboys ever to skim the high-hurdle barriers. The competition among these fleet-footed, high-stepping stalwarts elevated the level of achievement to unprecedented heights.
Into this explosive mix strode Nyack’s own Shulton Whitley. The 1977 Nyack High School graduate was not intimidated by the hurdlers with the fancy reputations. In fact, by the time he exited the scholastic stage, Shulton had forged quite a name for himself, thank you.
Shulton’s crowning moment came at the 1977 Loucks Games, one of the premier high school track meets in the country. Competing against a stacked field in the 120-yard high hurdles – including Lankford, the Farmingdale High School ace who later became an NFL wide receiver with the Miami Dolphins – Shulton won in 13.6 seconds, a clocking that currently ranks fourth all-time in the New York State scholastic record book.
Let Shulton describe how the big race unfolded. “I was the underdog. The day before in the quarterfinal Lankford had run a wind-aided 13.1, which was the fastest [schoolboy] time ever run up to then. I had to sleep on that. It was hard to sleep that night. In the final, we were both locked in. The rhythm was there. At the fourth and sixth hurdles, he faltered. I went ahead by a foot, a shoe. Then at the ninth hurdle, he was pressing hard to get even and get by me, and he hit the hurdle. That’s when I knew I had it.”
Hurdlers are warriors. Meet after meet, they line up against each other, shake hands (or sometimes not) and come out swinging. May the best man win. More often than not, Shulton was the best man. And when he didn’t win, he made them work for it.
In addition to his Loucks Games title, he had many other exceptional efforts in 1977:
• Rockland County champion in the 120-yard high hurdles (14.2), 330-yard intermediate hurdles (County meet record, 38.4), and long jump (21 feet, 11 inches). For many years he was the only male athlete to win three individual events in one County meet.
• He broke 14 seconds in the high hurdles an amazing 17 times. Only one other Rocklander has broken the 14-second barrier even once – Nyack’s Dwight Olivier at 13.9.
• Second place in the New York State champi- onships, losing in a photo-finish to Lankford that took several min- utes to decide.
• Rockland Track Athlete of the Year
• Section 9 champion
• A member of Nyack’s 440- and 880-yard relays, which set Rockland and Section 9 records with respective times of 42.7 and 1:28.9. (Ironically, the 880 relay record was broken by a 2008 Ramapo unit led off by Shulton’s son, Ryan.)
• His time of 13.6 in the 120-yard high hurdles is a Rockland and Section 9 record.
• Fourth place, Eastern States championships, behind Nehemiah’s national-record time of 12.9.
• As a junior, he finished third in the 120-yard high hurdles in the 1976 New York State championships, behind Lankford and NFL Hall of Famer Art Monk.
Shulton accomplished all of this without the benefit of winter indoor track, a sport that Nyack did not add to its athletic program until after he had graduated. All of his chief rivals had this crucial advantage, yet he managed to make up for lost time quickly once the spring season commenced.
Shulton earned a full scholarship to Rutgers University and competed for the Scarlet Knights from 1977 to 1982. He was the 1979 New Jersey and Metropolitan Conference champion in the 55-meter hurdles indoors and the 110-meter hurdles outdoors. In the 1980 indoor season, he had the fastest time (6.9 seconds) on Rutgers’ 4×55-meter shuttle hurdle relay at the Princeton Invitational. The team’s time of 28.5 seconds was ranked fourth in the world. Shulton is the only Rutgers hurdler to break 7 seconds on that relay.
Among his other highlights was a victory over Lankford and teammate Eugene Norman in the 55-meter hurdles at a meet that drew some of the top teams in the Northeast. He clocked 7.41 seconds, his best collegiate time. He was also the 55-meter hurdles champion at the East Coast Championships; ran on 4×110-meter shuttle hurdle relay teams that won silver medals three different years at the Penn Relays; placed third in the IC4A (Eastern) Championships in the 55-meter hurdles in 1978; and held the field house records in that event at both West Point and Lafayette. Shulton earned a mention in the “Who’s Who” section of Joe Namath’s scholastic athletes magazine as an Olympic hopeful for the 1980 Olympics (which the U.S. team wound up boycotting).
Shulton continued to compete at an elite level for 10 more years after college. He qualified for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 110-meter high hurdles, and that same year he set the still-standing record at the Empire State Games, 13.5 seconds, his personal best. Shulton won 17 medals at the Empire State Games in hurdles and relay events over nine years, including five gold medals. His best 55-meter hurdles time of 7.28 was achieved while he was a member of the Yonkers Striders Track Club in the mid-1980s.
He also earned numerous gold, silver and bronze medals at championship meets such as the Penn Relays, Millrose Games, Vitalis Olympic Invitational, and the U.S. Indoor National championship meet. He later used his hurdling fame and good looks to spur a popular ad campaign – “The Best A Man Can Get” – by appearing on a television commercial for Gillette razor blades.
Shulton, who is 52, lives in Spring Valley and has three children: Jordan, 22; Samantha, 21, and Ryan, 19, who starred as a hurdler and sprinter for Ramapo High School. Shulton has been a teacher’s aide and counselor at the Summit School in Nyack for the past 28 years, and in his 28th year as a track coach at Nyack High School. He also is lead vocalist for the Hard Times Band, performing the music of Ray Charles at venues throughout the New York City metro area.
Shulton is a charter member of the Rockland County Track & Field Hall of Fame, having been inducted in the inaugural year in 2004. In 2009 he received the Dick Teetsel Award, presented annually to the person who has made the most significant contribution to the sport of track & field in Rockland County.