REMEMBERING ED TEMPLE
And who, you ask, was Ed Temple? Well, for 41 years he was the women’s track and field coach at Tennessee State University, a predominantly black university in Nashville. Mr. Temple passed from this life on Thursday, September 22, 2016, two days past his 89th birthday.
A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Ed began coaching women’s track at TSU in 1953, only three years after he had graduated from the school. His beginning annual salary was $1,800! (Yes, you read that right$1,800 per year, which comes out to $150 per month!)
During his storied coaching career, Mr. Temple won 24 national championships, produced 40 TSU Olympians, coached the U. S. women’s track team in two Olympics (1960 and 1964), leading the teams to 23 Olympic medals (13 gold, six silver, four bronze). Among his standout track stars were Wilma Rudolph, the first U. S. woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics, and Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, current TSU women’s track coach. (Wilma Rudolph was a native of Clarksville, Tennessee, where I lived in the 1960s, and where a major thoroughfare is named in her honor. Wilma passed away in 1994 at the age of 54).
When Ed began coaching track at TSU in 1953 the South was heavily segregated. His teams traveled in old Chevrolet station wagons. They were not allowed to eat in white restaurants or to use the restroom facilities of white establishments. Often, they would order their food at the back or side doors of a restaurant, then eat out on the sidewalk or in the cars. Frequently, the girls would have to “take to” the bushes or the fields along the highway for restroom facilities. In all of this Mr. Temple insisted that the girls “stay within the lines” of society at that time. He was aware of the delicate position he and his athletes were in, but he was a stickler for the rules of society and made sure his girls never stepped over the boundaries. Instead, they stayed focused on their mission of being world-class athletes, and did not get “caught up” in everything that was going on around them. This was their way of contributing to the Civil Rights Movement.
Thank God, things are no longer that way in the United States. American culture is thoroughly integratedall the way from Animal Control Agent (aka, Dogcatcher) to the Presidency. Schools, churches, businesses, government, law enforcement, the judiciary at all levels, sports at all levels, restaurants, hotels, country clubs, public housing, public facilities—the whole gamut of life—are completely integrated.
The TSU sports teams are the “Tigers.” Ed Temple came up with the name “Tigerbelles” for his female track members. They were Tigers, he said, but they also were southern ladies—belles. He kept a careful eye on them and made them adhere to a high standard. He reminded them that they were girls and were expected to dress like girls and look like girls. Teresa Phillips, current athletics director at TSU, said, “He was pretty strict on them. He didn’t let them take rides in cars in their leisure time. He didn’t want them to be involved in any controversy. If you got in a car, you were going downtown and maybe doing a little partying and that kind of stuff. If you’ve got to walk, you’re not going to get very far from campus.” Temple did not allow for even the slightest appearance of unseemly behavior on the part of his athletes.
He monitored their grades closely and on a regular basis. If one had a “C” he would ask, “Why?” He expected all of his girls to make “B’s” or better. Every girl he ever coached at TSU graduated and got her degree. Several went on to get Masters. Some obtained PhDs, and at least one received the M.D.
Temple was a tough coach. He trained his girls hard and expected them to excel. One of them in a TV interview the next evening after his death said, “You didn’t breathe hard in front of CoachTemple after practice, or a workout, or an event. If you breathed hard it would make you look like you were not in shape. If you felt like breathing hard you just stopped breathing in front of Coach Temple!”
Ed Temple is a member of the U. S. Olympic Hall of Fame, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, TSU Hall of Fame, National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame, Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Black Athletes Hall of Fame, and the Communiplex National Sports Hall of Fame. Eight of his Tigerbelles have been inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, including Chandra Cheeseborough, Wyomia Tyus, and Wilma Rudolph. A street near the TSU campus is named in his honor and his statue stands on the greenway near the outfield of First Tennessee Park in Nashville.
Two great coaches of female athletes at Tennessee institutions of higher learning have passed away this year: Pat Summit, head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team and Ed Temple, women’s track and field coach at Tennessee State University. We are not likely to see their kind again in a long, long time—people of backbone, people of stamina, people of courage, people of principles, winners who knew how to produce winners.
(Note: I am indebted to stories in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, and reports on WTVF-5 in Nashville for some of the information contained in the above essay.)
September 27, 2016
September 28: Centerville Church of Christ, Centerville, TN