Profiles: Ed Temple and the Tigerbelles
by Pat Embry
October 25, 2010
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles’ and Coach Ed Temple’s legendary accomplishments in the 1960 Summer Olympics. Temple and the Tigerbelles’ won three gold medals at the Olympics in Rome, becoming international stars and legends in the process. Celebrate Sports in Nashville is grateful to profile the legendary Ed Temple.
By Pat Embry
For Nashville residents, it has been a familiar scene through the years.
You might see him at the Downtown YMCA, exercising, or perhaps before or after a workout, when salutations and inquires toward his health and well-being are met with “Mighty fine, mighty fine” and a bright smile. Or you might get a glimpse of him on the TSU campus or at the many events and gatherings he supports.
Maybe you’ve seen his vital work on the Board of the Nashville Sports
Authority. Or on TV or the radio, discussing sports, the charities he graciously supports and more.
An unassuming man, Edward Stanley Temple. A rock. You get the impression that one the greatest track and field coaches who ever lived- not to mention a former star athlete himself- keeps himself in shape so he can deftly dodge the bright glare of the spotlight, whenever it happens to come his way.
And the spotlight comes, whether Coach Temple likes it or not, since his 1994 retirement from Tennessee State University. His Tigerbelles get the spotlight, too. National TV interviews. Awards. Temple is in nine Halls of Fame across the country- that in and of itself must be a record. Countless books and features and news stories. A documentary is in the works.
His Legacy at TSU
The main north-south corridor entering the campus, 28th Avenue North, becomes Ed Temple Boulevard as it reaches the campus and parallels the Cumberland River to the west. Of late, in December 2009, Temple received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the fall commencement exercise at the school, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health and physical education, as well as serving as associate professor of sociology.
The guy cuts a regal figure in cap and gown. A news release from the university’s sports information department recaps the gaudy statistics:
“During Temple’s 44 years as women’s track head coach at TSU, 40 members of his famed Tigerbelle teams competed in the Olympics, winning a total of 23 medals, including 13 Gold. Temple also led the Tigerbelles to 34 national titles and 30 medals in the Pan American Games. Eight Tigerbelles have been inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Temple’s coaching accomplishments extend well beyond the practice of track and field at TSU. He served as women’s track head coach for two consecutive U.S. Olympic Teams (1960 in Rome and 1964 in Tokyo), as well as an assistant head coach for the 1980 Games.”
As for the cap-and-gown stuff, here are even more impressive numbers: Of the 40 Olympians from the TSU track program, 39 completed college degrees, 28 earned their master’s, and six earned doctorates.
The Tigerbelle names behind the athletic and academic achievements read like a Who’s Who of all-time U.S. track stars, most of them sprinters. Wilma Rudolph. Wyomia Tyus. Mae Faggs. Barbara Jones. Martha Hudson. Margaret Matthews. Willye White. Edith McGuire. Lucinda Williams. Madeline Manning. Kathy McMillan. And, lastly, Chandra Cheeseborough, Temple’s successor and current TSU head coach, who won two gold and one silver medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Although not a Tigerbelle by gender, fellow TSU great Ralph Boston captured a gold, silver and bronze medal in three successive Olympics from 1960-68 and was named a member of both the U.S. Track and Field and Olympic Halls of Fame before going on to become an ESPN analyst and successful Knoxville businessman.
The most famous Tigerbelle, undoubtedly, is the late, great Rudolph, the Clarksville native who won three golds in the 1960 Olympics, the first ever American woman to accomplish the feat. Her story is legendary. She
overcame childhood polio to become the one of the most celebrated female athletes ever. Who discovered her? And who did she give all the credit to? Ed Temple on both counts.
With her coach at her side, and with Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell on hand to chronicle her exploits for the hometown, Rudolph’s achievements did much to change the entire way Americans regarded female athletes and race relations in general. The Tigerbelles won the 4×100 relay with the team of Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Barbara Jones and Rudolph. Rudolph won the 100 and 200 meter sprints as well.
Rudolph, who died in 1994, the same year she was elected to the National Woman’s Hall of Fame, won the James E. Sullivan Award the next year, given to the top amateur in the United States. Her life has spawned books and movies through the years and continues to inspire.
In May 2010, in ABC “Good Morning America” series “Be Inspired”, broadcaster Juju Chang retold the Wilma Rudolph story, after visiting Temple and Cheeseborough in Nashville.
“Coming to Tennessee State made me realize what I’ve always known, that great historical figures always have a catalyst,” Chang was quoted. “For Wilma, that was Coach Ed Temple, without whom she never would have made history.”
Temple the Leader and Coach
Temple’s grueling, year-round practices- the Tigerbelles competed in both the indoor and outdoor track seasons, and ran cross-country from for training purposes in the fall- stressed the fundamentals, of learning to lean at the tape, and how to properly pass a baton in a relay. To encourage competitiveness, he would split his squads by the school colors, blue and white, and would urge students to come root them on.
The coach’s credos to success could, and should, hang in every locker room in America:
1. “Accept hard work in practice with no exceptions.”
2. “Make the champion’s choice. Improve or stand still.”
3. “Make weaknesses work for you by working to correct them.”
4. “Memorize ‘TH’: THINK you can win, HOPE to, and TRY.”
5. “Never underestimate your ability. Who knows how far you can go?”
6. “Seek perfection. Few attain it but all who seek it gain.”
It was never easy being a Tigerbelle, nor the Tigerbelles coach. Not unlike the famed Jubilee Singers down the road a few miles at Fisk University, they have always been appreciated and known more nationally and internationally than in their own hometown, and even on their own campus.
“My very first track team consisted of about two girls and three boys and a $64 budget,” Temple has said. His budget never got significantly better. His steadfast wife Charlie, who died in 2008, was always referred to, quite appropriately, as “assistant coach”. It was Charlie’s task to make sure the coeds were properly dressed, and with appropriate deportment, as they barnstormed across the country to track meets. Much of the time, that meant packing sandwiches to eat along the way, this still being very much a segregated country.
As was the case with their coach, who attended TSU on work study after passing up an athletic scholarship to Penn State. It was not until an act from the Gov. Buford Ellington’s office, after the 1964 Olympics, that TSU even began awarding partial scholarships for track athletes.
TSU had been a national power in the historically black college ranks in both football and men’s basketball. Temple’s office was forever in the campus’s post office, where he and Charlie worked to help supplement their meager salaries.
The coach could see it coming after his squad’s first huge success, capturing the national AAU championship in 1955, when Rudolph first joined the squad as a skinny high schooler.
“I was on cloud nine because I knew it was the first time a black school had ever won a national championship,” Temple was quoted in Maureen Smith’s 2006 biography of Rudolph. “But the people at Tennessee State didn’t appreciate it. They were still thinking of us as a black team who won the black championship. They didn’t know the significance of being a national champion.
“Really, we just advanced too fast for the school at the time. There is no doubt about it. We were way ahead of them.”
Temple told a visiting reporter a few years after his retirement:
“I don’t know if they’ll ever get back to that level. Everybody has their time, and we certainly had ours. The success of those past teams opened the doors (for black athletes). And once the doors opened, it was like a floodgate and it spread out the talent.”
The Tigerbelles’ everlasting legacy continues today in a multitude of ways. Temple himself is a pioneer in numerous areas: women’s athletics, track and field, women’s rights, civil rights, higher education- the list goes on and on.
Today, one of Temple’s many student-athletes carries on his legacy as coach. Celebrated track superstar and Tigerbelle great Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice is the Head Coach for TSU’s Women’s Track and Field program.
“I’m just happy I came along when I did,” Temple told The New York Times columnist William Rhoden. “Life goes on.” Yes, it does, a life and legacy that has impacted and continues to impact a community, a city, a nation- and the whole world.