Measured in inches, Al Tarpenning stands 5-feet-6 on a tall day. Measured in stature among all the athletes and coaching graduates in the history of Linfield College, he stands among the giants -- those who have earned selection into the Hall of Fame.
Tarpenning came to Linfield in 1951 at the encouragement of one of his coaches at Gresham High, Bud Monnes, himself a Linfield graduate (1942). "Tarp," as his friends called him then and now, had tied for second place in the high jump at the state high school championship meet. Linfield coach Hal Smith offered Tarpenning a scholarship for track and field and encouraged him to play basketball and football as well. And that he did for the Wildcats, earning three varsity letters in football, three in basketball and four in track and field.
He set Linfield and Northwest Conference records four consecutive years in winning the high jump and in 1953 ranked 10th in the world in terms of inches jumped over his height. Tarpenning jumped 6-feet, 4 inches -- 10 inches over his head. He was track and field team captain in 1954 and '55 and led Linfield in point scoring both those years.
In football, Tarpenning excelled on both offense and defense. In both 1953 and '54 he led the Wildcats in scoring as a left halfback and in pass interceptions as a safety. His coach, Paul Durham, recalls how Tarpenning jumped so high that he could defend against passes to The College of Idaho's R.C. Owens, inventor of the "Alley Oop" catch which Owens later made famous with the San Francisco 49ers. In his senior season of 1954, "Tarp's" all-around ability was recognized with his selection on the All-Northwest Conference and Williamson System All-America first teams. His teammates chose him co-Most Inspirational Player.
Later, Tarpenning reshaped his abilities into coaching and led his teams to a remarkable 37 state, regional and national team championships in cross country and track and field between 1967 and 1980. His 1967 Centennial High School (Gresham) team won the Oregon state Class AAA track and field championship at, and later at Lane Community College in Eugene, his teams won nine straight Oregon Community College Association championships in cross country and in track and field between 1971 and 1980. Lane also won nine regional cross country and seven regional track and field championships and won the National Junior College Athletic Association cross country championship in 1972 and 1979.
He was named Coach of the Year 37 times -- one for each of his championship seasons.
Tarpenning met Dorothy Elliott at Linfield and they later married and had six children. Two of them graduated from Linfield: Karin in 1979 and Kyle in 1983. Kyle was the placekicker and played free safety on Linfield's first national championship football team in 1982. Another son, Kory, pole vaulted for the United States in two Olympic Games, placing fourth in Barcelona in 1992.
The Tarpennings reside in Eugene and Al is still active as a meet official for USA Track and Field. In 1975, Tarpenning was inducted in the NAIA Hall of Fame for his achievements as an athlete and coach.