Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Former Tennessee State University Women’s Track Coach Ed Temple Was a Pioneer

By Blake Fontenay

Interviewing successful people isn’t always a lot of fun. Often people who have accomplished a lot in their lives are defensive, bored with answering the same questions many times over or just focused on getting to the next appointment on their calendars.

When we interviewed Ed Temple for the first profile in our Tri-Star Chronicles project in 2015, he was none of those things. The legendary coach of the Tennessee State University Tigerbelles sat for hours, answering every question asked of him forthrightly and often with a wry sense of humor.

The word “legendary” is used loosely, but it really applied to Temple, who passed away Sept. 22. He coached Tennessee State’s women’s track team for more than 40 years, winning 34 national titles. Forty of the women he coached competed in the Olympics, winning 23 medals. And, as he noted with pride during our interview, all of the Olympians earned their college degrees.

Beyond his winning record, though, there were a number of things that stood out about Temple that will become part of his legacy.

One was his unrelenting commitment to discipline. He had many rules that he expected his athletes to follow. They weren’t allowed to cruise around in cars with friends. They were expected to fix their hair and makeup before giving interviews. And being on time for meetings and practices was a given. Wyomia Tyus, an Olympic gold medalist, said in an interview for Tri-Star Chronicles that Temple threatened to send those who disobeyed his rules home on the train “with a comic book and an apple.”

Temple used athletics as a gateway to help African-American women get college education. He hosted summer training camps for high school girls he hoped to recruit to Tennessee State. Since he had no budget for scholarships in the early years of his tenure, he arranged jobs for students on campus. Temple praised those who were doing well in their classes and chastised the ones who weren’t in front of their teammates.

“Athletics opens doors,” Temple liked to say, “education keeps them open.”

Tigerbelle Track Team and Coach Edward S. Temple with medals from a 1958 meet in Moscow
Members of the Tigerbelle Track Team
Image Courtesy of Tennessee State University Special Collections and Archives, Brown-Daniel Library

Temple was more than a coach. Many of his former athletes described him as a father figure who made lasting impressions on their lives. He and his wife doled out life lessons while supplying the young women with barbecue and birthday cakes. Many of those women came back to visit Temple, even more than 20 years after his retirement. Edith McGuire Duvall, another Olympic gold medalist, said she learned to appreciate Temple’s humor during those visits with her former coach.

“He was not funny then (as a coach),” Duvall told Tri-Star Chronicles. “He was all business. We have a different relationship with him now than when we were running.”

Coach Ed Temple and his children are presented 'Keys to the City', 1964.
Image Courtesy of Tennessee State University Special Collections and Archives, Brown-Daniel Library

Temple also played a key role in raising the profile of and increasing the resources provided to women’s sports. When Temple began his career in 1950, he was paid $150 a month and his track team’s budget was only $64. The school’s training facilities consisted of an incomplete cinder “half track” located near the agriculture department’s pig pen and a dump site.

“Running a 440 (meter race) was out of the question,” Temple wrote in his autobiography, “and on hot days down there by those pigs you sort of lost your motivation to run much of anything.”

Lacking resources for fancier transportation, the team traveled to track meets in a station wagon. Since they were living in the segregated South, the team packed its meals and took bathroom breaks by the side of the road.

While Temple and his Tigerbelles earned international acclaim for their achievements at the track, they made do with scant resources for years. As Temple put it: “Fame don’t pay no bills.” Temple achieved a breakthrough when he successfully appealed directly to then-Governor Buford Ellington, who had once supported segregation, for a bigger budget and athletic scholarships for the women’s track program. The program grew from there.

Members of the 1955 Tigerbelle Track Team
Image Courtesy of Tennessee State University Special Collections and Archives, Brown-Daniel Library

Later in life, Temple got recognition for the work he did in near obscurity early in his career. He was inducted into a slew of different sports halls of fame. In 2015, a statue of Temple went up outside First Tennessee Park, a short drive from Tennessee State’s main campus.

Temple used to tell his recruits: “There’s a right way, the wrong way and Coach Temple’s way.” History will probably look kindly on “Coach Temple’s way.”

To read more about Temple’s life story in Tri-Star Chronicles, please visit: http://sos.tn.gov/tsla/tri-star-chronicles-ed-temple.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A memorial service for Temple is scheduled from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Friday at the Kean Hall Gymnasium on Tennessee State University’s campus.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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