When Ed Temple was coaching in the Olympics he seldom got to see some of his athletes’ greatest performances.
“When you’re the coach, you’re the coach of the whole Olympic team, so I didn’t get to see a lot,” Temple said. “I didn’t see Wilma (Rudolph) win the gold medal in the 100 and the 200 (meters in 1960 in Rome) because I was in the warmup area getting the others ready for the hurdles and other events. I’d just see them up on the (podium) and somebody would say, ‘Wilma won!’ and I would say, ‘Won what?’ ”
That was not the case Friday morning. Temple had the best seat for a tribute that took place in his honor on the greenway next to First Tennessee Park.
He also had the honor of unveiling a 9-foot bronze statue of his likeness with a granite base, which will immortalize the accomplishments that came during his 44-year career as the women’s track coach at Tennessee State.
“I’m just glad to be on top of the ground,” said Temple, who will turn 88 in September. “Others will come along and they will do just as well.”
Other coaches may accomplish similar feats but won’t face the obstacles Temple did in the turbulent 1950s and ’60s when his athletes were female minorities who were often denied their civil rights.
“To see what (Temple) accomplished in that era, not only in terms of segregation but also of disdain for women’s athletics, is amazing,” said local businessman Bo Roberts, who spearheaded the effort to build the statue. “He is such a pioneer in both.”
Many of the Tigerbelles Temple coached, including some who ran for him when he was the Olympic head coach in 1960 and 1964 and assistant in 1968, came from across the country to attend the statue unveiling.
“The thing that you’ve got to realize is this was during the ’50s, during the time of segregation,” Temple said. “This was at a time when these young ladies represented their country and then came back and couldn’t buy a hamburger or anything else in a restaurant. They had poor facilities; we were lucky to be able to go to Vanderbilt twice a week to run on their track.”
Temple said the public was never made aware of the fact that TSU practiced at Vanderbilt.
“They couldn’t come out and say that was happening,” he said.
Temple, who has been retired for 21 years, kept the crowd at the unveiling chuckling with some of the funny stories he told from the past.
But some of his past athletes said there wasn’t much to laugh about when they ran for him.
“We never found his humor, but everybody else would tell us how funny he was,” said Wyomia Tyus, the fastest woman in the world in 1964 and 1968 and the first person to win the gold medal in 100 meters in back-to-back Olympics. “It’s not funny when he’s telling you to keep on running after you tell him you can’t do it because your legs hurt. But he was doing what was best for us. We just didn’t realize it at the time.”
Courtesy of: Mike Organ