BY KAREN ROSEN AND DOUG WILLIAMS
At the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, seven members of the U.S. women’s track and field team came from the same university.
They were the Tigerbelles from Tennessee State, coached by Ed Temple and soon to become famous as an Olympic dynasty.
Yet Temple, then just 29 years old, didn’t foresee his star sprinter, Wilma Rudolph, taking the fast track into history.
“I was just happy that somebody was going to get to the finals,” said Temple, who was also coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s team. “Oh my goodness, Wilma made it to the finals, and then boom! She jumped up and won the gold medal in the 100 and then came back and won the gold in the 200 and then anchored the 4 x 100 relay in which all four girls were from Tennessee State.
“They were all my girls.”
Now 84, Temple has joined three of his girls, Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus and Willye B. White, in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame presented by Allstate. He is only the fourth coach to receive the honor, following Herb Brooks (ice hockey), Carlo Fassi (figure skating) and Abie Grossfeld (gymnastics). The induction ceremony will be broadcast Aug. 23 on NBC Sports Network.
“I was really happy and I’m glad I’m still on top of the ground to receive it.” Temple said.
In his 44 years at Tennessee State, 40 of his athletes became Olympians – including five for countries besides the United States. They won 23 Olympic medals, 13 of them gold.
“He was very tough, but very appreciative tough,” said Tyus, the first sprinter – male or female – to repeat as Olympic champion in the 100 meters (1964-68). “I can remember him coming to Griffin, Ga., to visit my mom and saying to her, ‘She can come to school. I have my rules. There’s a right way, the wrong way and coach Temple’s way.’”
Coach Temple’s way led to success in athletics and in life. Tyus said she first met the coach when she was 15, and he invited her to a camp at Tennessee State in Nashville.
“When I got on that campus, I met these young women that were doing wonderful things, not just on the track,” Tyus said.
“So to me, the Tigerbelles are everything that I could see a woman should be. It was not only that they were great athletes, but they were also women that were doing something to make careers for themselves when they were told, ‘No.’ And also to be black women and in the south, there were a lot of hurdles to get over.”
They got over those hurdles with determination and the dedication of their coach.
Temple, a native of Harrisburg, Pa., began his association with the Tigerbelles in 1950 when he was working on his master’s degree at Tennessee State. After three years as an assistant, he took over as head coach. He also taught sociology.
“There was no such thing as just a coach,” he said. “You had to teach and coach.”
With the school’s emphasis on football and basketball, he said, track and everything else “got the crumbs that were left.”
Temple started with a budget of $300 and one track meet a year, the Tuskegee Relays. Eventually, the Alabama State Relays were added to the schedule, but traveling in Alabama in the days of segregation was difficult.
“We would be in station wagons,” Temple said. “We had to pull over to the side and the girls had to hit the field if they had to go to the bathroom because you couldn’t stop in those stations and use the restrooms. We didn’t start using a bus until after Title IX, and that was in the ‘80s. People ask me about Title IX, and I say we didn’t have Title I.”
Instead of scholarships, the female athletes had work aid. They put in two hours a day in such places as the post office, the library or in campus housing. He said the athletes had to pay for books or got hand-me-downs.
“And our facilities were way from first class; they were around D class,” Temple said.
In the summer before the national championships or U.S. Olympic Trials, they practiced three times a day – at 5 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on an old cinder track.
“And brother, when it’s 2 in the afternoon here in July, it’s 90 or 95 degrees,” Temple said. “They had to put tape on their knees and tape on their fingertips to get down on their mark with the cinders so hot.”
Indoors, they worked out on the basketball court, which made it hard to prepare for the banked track at Madison Square Garden in New York. “That was a tremendous adjustment, but they did it,” Temple said.
One year there was a circus the night before the meet at the Garden and the Tigerbelles didn’t get to practice.
“So, we ran up and down the halls in the Paramount Hotel,” Temple said. “People would open up the doors and we’d be running up and down the halls. I told them, ‘We didn’t come all this way in a station wagon not to be ready to run in the Garden. We were gonna practice.’ Those were the days.”
Tyus said the athletes dealt with the hardships without complaint. “Most of us grew up in the south, so it was nothing new for us,” she said. “We knew that you can’t go here, you can’t do these things, and you had to go along with it, what were you supposed to do? And all he would say was, ‘You just have to keep doing what you need to do.’
“And even if you did that, he also said you could go to the Olympics and win three, five or six gold medals and you may not ever get the credit you deserve. And it’s not about that. You need to get an education, so that’s what the Tigerbelles are all about. You go to school, you run, yes, but your main goal is to get a good education and be what you want to be.”
Tyus said Temple demanded the Tigerbelles maintain at least a C-plus average and was harder on them concerning their grades than their workouts.
Temple said he told parents that while athletics opens the doors, education keeps them open. Of his 40 Olympians, 39 graduated.
“And really, when I sit back and look at it now, I’m just as proud of that as if they won the gold medal,” he said. “I had 28 get their master’s (degrees) and 13 or 14 got their MDs or PhDs or Eds.”
Tennessee State won its first of 34 national championships, this one an AAU title, in 1955. The next year, six Tigerbelles made the team for the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games.
“That was our start,” Temple said. “Nobody expected it and the girls went over there and did a grand job.”
White garnered the silver medal in the long jump and an all-Tigerbelle 4 x 100-meter relay team, composed of Mae Faggs (who had won a gold medal on the relay in 1952), Margaret Matthews, Rudolph and Isabelle Daniels took the bronze.
Four years later, four Tennessee State sprinters won gold medals, with Rudolph winning three.
“I was really thrilled,” Temple said. “I didn’t think we could do any better than that. I was ready almost to retire. I said, ‘Shoot, it’s time for me to quit now.’ ”
He said he didn’t want to go the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, even though he was asked to repeat as head coach.
“My wife was really the one who pushed me out the door to the ‘64 Olympics,” he said. “I said, ‘Shoot, if I mess up there, I’m just down the drain. We did so well in ’60; I said we can’t do any better.’ ”
And yet they nearly did. Tyus and Edith McGuire went 1-2 in the 100, which Temple believes was an unprecedented achievement for two women from the same school.
“And I will never forget, Edith came back to me -- and I was ready to go back home,” Temple said. “And she said, ‘Coach Temple I’m gonna win that 200.’ And she came back and won the 200.”
Then White, McGuire and Tyus joined Marilyn White of Los Angeles in earning the silver medal on the 4 x 100 relay.
Overall, Tokyo was “a tremendous experience,” Temple said.
In 1968, Madeline Manning Mims became the first U.S. woman to win the gold medal in the 800 meters, earning a silver medal on the 4 x 400 relay in 1972. Kathy McMillan took the silver in the long jump in 1976.
Temple was an assistant coach on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. But he did not get a chance to coach in those Games because the United States boycotted the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games because of the Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan.
After participating in a meet with other countries that had joined the boycott, the U.S. team went to the White House. Temple remembers that well “because everybody was so mad at Jimmy Carter on account of Afghanistan.” Years later, “we’re in Afghanistan.” He laughed. “That’s pretty good.”
In 1984, Temple’s last Olympic gold medalist, Chandra Cheeseborough, became the first woman to win gold medals on the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays in the same Games. When Temple retired in 1994, she succeeded him as coach at her alma mater.
Temple still keeps an office at the university, where he has donated a collection of his memorabilia to the library.
It’s a history of the Coach Temple way.
“Just go out there and win,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the only thing we were interested in, winning.”
Karen Rosen and Doug Williams are freelance contributors for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.