In commemoration of Black History Month, we will honor the legacy of African-American athletes from ASN's family of schools throughout February. Today: Legendary Tennessee State track coach Ed Temple, who died on Sept. 22 at the age of 89. Temple was the guiding force behind the TSU Tigerbelles, the women's track program that set the standard for world class and Olympic runners.
Tennessee State women's track program started in 1950 with a budget of $300. Within a decade, it would become the gold standard thanks to Edward Temple.
During his 44-year career, TSU produced 40 Olympians, 23 medalists and 34 national champions. Eight Tigerbelles are in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, including Wilma Rudolph.
Rudolph overcame childhood polio to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in track at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. She won the 100 and 200 meters and anchored the 4x100-meter relay team that included TSU teammates Lucinda Williams, Barbara Jones, Martha Hudson.
"I was so happy [for Wilma] I was bursting all the buttons off my shirt,” Temple said of the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
But there's more to the story of the Tigerbelles, told by TSU's Lucas Johnson:
No matter what history is made at the Olympics in Rio this year, Tennessee State University will always have a place in the record books when it comes to the Games.
In 1948, TSU alumna Audrey Patterson became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal when she took home the bronze in the 200-meter dash at the London Games.
Over a span of nearly four decades, TSU went on to win more than 20 Olympic medals, including 13 gold medals. Just about all the Olympic medals were won by the world famous TSU Tigerbelles, led by legendary track and field coach Ed Temple, who produced 40 Olympians.
Probably the most memorable Olympic moment was at the 1960 Rome Games, when Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field.
Other Tigerbelles who won Olympic medals include: Madeline Manning Mims, Edith McGuire, Wyomia Tyus, Willye White, Margaret Matthews Wilburn and Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, who is currently TSU’s track and field director.
(Tyus won gold in the 100 at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, becoming the first woman to retain the Olympic title in the event. Cheeseborough won twos golds and a silver at the 1984 Olympics.)
“They are an inspiration to everybody,” Temple said in a recent interview.
Dwight Lewis, who is co-authoring a book about the Tigerbelles, said they “paved the way for other women in various sports.”
“They opened the door,” Lewis said.
Tennessee State University’s Olympic success is part of its rich athletic history. Earlier this year, the university received an award for the number of TSU football players who went on to play in Super Bowls (including Richard Dent).
Everett Glenn, a sports attorney and organizer of the awards ceremony that recognized TSU, said he hopes the university’s athletic success will attract high school graduates to it and other historically black colleges and universities that have much to offer athletically — and academically.
“I can’t wait for the day that our young people understand the rich history that HBCUs have,” Glenn said.
In the case of athletics, TSU is hoping to continue its winning tradition in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
Price will make his second consecutive appearance in the Paralympics. He was a member of the 2012 London Games, where he finished sixth in the long jump and eighth in the 400-meter dash.
“I am extremely honored and blessed for this opportunity,” Price said. “I have dedicated the last four years to training to run the best race to bring home the gold for the U.S.”
Cheeseborough-Guice, who coached Price while he was at TSU, believes he has a good shot.
“He was an excellent athlete who worked very hard,” she said. “I have no doubt that he will perform well.”
TSU Olympian Ralph Boston said he’s pulling for Price. But regardless of how he performs, he just wants the Paralympian to enjoy the moment, because he said Price became a part of history when he was selected to participate in the Games.
“It is a very exciting feeling to be selected to represent your country,” said Boston, who won a gold medal in the long jump at the 1960 Rome Games.