Keith Ellis Lee was a prominent member of the dominant Jackson State men’s track and field team. From 1973-1978, Lee and his teammates all but ruled the track and field landscape in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
He is among 13 who will be inducted in the JSU Hall of Fame next month.
Lee was a fierce competitor and a winner from the moment he stepped onto the Jackson State campus. As a freshman, he advanced to the NAIA finals in the 880-yard dash, where he lowered his personal best time to 1:50.8. As a sophomore, he started running cross country, which helped him in track and field as he again lowered his 880 time to 1:50.2.
Ellis had a banner junior year, going undefeated during the cross country regular season, before winning the conference meet. During the indoor track season, he posted a time of 2:07.7 in the 1,000 yards. The time was only 2 seconds off the then current indoor record. Once again, he lowered his 880 time in outdoor track and field to 1:49.4. He also set a Jackson State and SWAC record as he ran a 6.5 mile course in 33:33
As a senior, he went undefeated during the cross country regular season. The 1978 season was the year of the “Big Seven” for JSU track and field. The Tigers won seven major meets, including indoor and outdoor nationals. Lee recorded another personal best in the 800 meters, posting a 1:47.2. He also recorded a time of 1:46.8 in a leg of one of the team’s sprint medley relays. A fall in the preliminary rounds of the nationals prevented him from qualifying for the finals.
After leaving Jackson State, he ran for the Flying Tiger Track Club for a year. He participated in track and road races, and was undefeated in road races at distances from five kilometers to 10 miles. In 1979, Lee joined the Air Force and continued to race. He eventually joined the Air Force track team and participated in Armed Services track meets in Colorado and Brazil. In 1980, he won the Air Force Long Distance Championships in both the three and six mile events. In these races, he ran three miles in 14:06. In 1980, Lee suffered one of his few defeats during his track and field career. He lost the Santa Rosa Mall five-mile race when he fell at the start and tore a calf muscle. This was the first major injury of his career.
Lee was a member of the Air Force from 1979-2000. While serving as the Director of Logistics for the 100th Regional Support Group in the United Kingdom, he helped to found the American Air Museum in the UK. The museum is a living memorial that honors the men and women of the American Air Forces who gave so unselfishly of themselves in the cause of freedom. He left the Air Force as a major and received an honorable retirement for creditable service. His military awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, the 2nd award, Air Force Commendation Medal, 4th award, the Army Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, 2nd award, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal. He served 21 years in the Air Force.
While at JSU, he was a four-year letter winner in the 800, 1,000, 1,500, 1-mile, sprint medley and the 2-mile relay in track and field and participated in cross country in the 5-kilometer and 10 kilometer. He was an All-SWAC performer in the same events and earned All-American honors in the 800 and the 2-mile relay.
Lee recorded a two-season unbeaten streak in cross country, his junior and senior years. He was also ranked nationally and in the world in the 800 and was nationally ranked in the two-mile relay. He was a four-time All-American in indoor and outdoor track and field and was an Olympic Qualifier in the 800 in 1976 and again in 1980.
The 2013 JSU Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony is set for 7 p.m. Friday Oct. 4 in the JSU Student Center Ballroom. Tickets are $50 and tables are $500. For more information contact Eric Stringfellow, 601-979-2272.