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USATF 2009 Hall of Fame Interviews

Hall of Fame Class of 2009 Interviews

INDIANAPOLIS
– USA Track & Field announced on Tuesday that Joetta Clark Diggs,
Andre Phillips, Randy Williams, Willie Steele and Dr. Ken Foreman have
been elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. Below are
recent interviews with the living inductees.

Joetta Clark Diggs

Q: What are your feelings about being elected to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame?

A:
When I saw the list of athletes that I was up against this year I
thought it was a solid list as always. I’m honored and thrilled to see
that I had been elected. I’m just glad I’m alive to see it. For my
family, my coaches and all the people that have been so instrumental in
my career, I’m glad that they’re all still here to hear the good news
and to participate in the event.

Q: How did your career in track and field begin?

A:
I started in track and field by running in various camps as a sprinter
when I was eight and nine years old. At that time my father was the
director of parks and recreation in Essex County. So I would run the
100 and 50 yard dash, and eventually he moved me up to middle distance
and distance running, and that’s where I stayed ever since. I would
travel to AAU meets across the country and I would run cross country as
a youngster when I was 10 or 11, and when I was 13 I went to junior
nationals and I ran 5:09 for the 1,500m and 2:18 for the 800. I went
into high school the next year and my high school coach brought me
along. I started as a sprinter and then my father wanted to dispel the
notion that American blacks couldn’t run anything above the quarter, so
he put us in the 800 and cross country. He wanted us to travel the path
of the road less taken at that time.

Q: How did the 800 become your specialty?

A:
The reality is we focused more on the 800 in college because we had
other girls who could run the 1,500. I could run a good 1,500 or mile,
but in my freshman year in high school I ran 2:12 and then I went 2:05
as a sophomore when I was 15 (years old). So I was recruited to run the
800 and 1,500, and be the fifth person in cross country. I pretty much
stuck with the 800 because once I got out of college, in order to get
in the European meets, my 800 was the only thing that was even remotely
close to running against the world because everyone back then was 1:55,
1:56, where 1:59 got you 10th or 11th back before
the (Berlin) wall came down in 1989. In the states I could run both,
but in the world market and in order to make a career out of it, I
needed to run the 800.

Q: Why did you choose to attend the University of Tennessee?

A:
Back in 1980 I was the top high school recruit, male or female in the
country, in any sport. That was not me saying that, it was Sports Illustrated saying
that. My last four schools were Georgetown, Tennessee, Indiana
University and UVA (University of Virginia). I came to Tennessee and
Terry Crawford (1988 U.S. Olympic women’s head coach, and current USATF
Director of Coaching) was the coach then. She sold me on her bringing
in a great freshman class, and Delisa (Walton-Floyd) was there and she
took second her freshman year at nationals, which was my senior year of
high school. So I came to Knoxville and had a great bunch of girls come
in with me and we ended up winning the AIAW my freshman year, and we
had a top team during all of my four years at Tennessee.  So we came in, we graduated, we won titles, and we’re all doing well now.

Q: As an elite athlete you competed on four U.S. Olympic Teams. What was that like for you?

A:
I tried out twice in high school and also in college in ’84 and I
didn’t make that team, so when I finally made the team in ’88 I was
excited because it was at a point where it was still East Germany and
the Eastern bloc countries and they were running fast and I had to
decide if I would stay in the sport or go to work. I decided to hang
around a couple more years and I’m glad that I did that. Making four
Olympic teams was exciting, and when you’re doing it, however, you
don’t realize that you’re doing it. You only realize it when you start
getting awards or when you retire because you’re so busy trying to run
fast, throw further or jump higher that you don’t sit back and look at
your accomplishments until you’re completely done. I didn’t really
relish that at the time because I had more to do.

Q: You won two medals in World Indoor Championships competition. How rewarding was that?

A:
I enjoy running indoors. I ran 1:59 both times at the World Indoor
Championships. The first one was in Indianapolis in 1987 and I made the
finals. I enjoyed the boards and it didn’t have as many people as well.
Outdoors you have a lot more women in those races. For me I got two
bronze medals and a world record in the distance medley I think it was,
or the sprint medley indoors, and that mark still stands.

Q:  You’re
also well known for your success at the Millrose Games, where you were
victorious on seven occasions. What did running at Madison Square
Garden mean to you?

A:
For years we would go to the Garden to see all-time greats compete and
I thought that one day I’ll be able to run there, and lo and behold I
got my chance to run when I was 15 and I ran every year until I retired
when I was 38. I missed one year running at the Garden in ’84, but I
ran in either 20 or 21 Millrose Games. That was special to be in the
stands as a kid and then be able to go back and run in front of your
home crowd was something special.

Q:  The
Clark family (Coach J.J. Clark, 5-time Olympian Jearl Miles-Clark,
5-time USA Outdoor champion Hazel Clark) has meant a great deal to USA
Track & Field through the years. What has it been like to be a part
of a family that has meant so much to track and field in the U.S.?

A:
I think that USA Track & Field, and track and field period, has
done so much for us as individuals. Being awarded a scholarship to
college and graduating from Tennessee, my brother graduated from
Villanova University where he was a fine runner himself, having run
under four minutes in the mile, and then my sister graduated from the
University of Florida. Track has been something that has afforded us
the opportunity to go to college for free, travel across the country
and around the world to meet great people and I think, when you look at
everything, we are solid people and that’s the way our parents raised
us. Our family is a close-knit family and we believe in the sport and
giving back, and I’m really thankful for the opportunities we’ve had
through track and field.

Q:  Now that you’ve retired from competition, what are you doing these days?

A:
My life now has come full circle. I’ve been married for ten years and I
have a daughter who is seven (years old) and I home school her. I have
a foundation, The Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation and we do
programs for kids K through 12 dealing with obesity, life skills and
nutrition. So my programs are now the programs that are in school, so
instead of doing gym and health they do my program for 10, 12 or 16
weeks. I run free track and field camps in the summer from 8:30 to 3
o’clock every day. You drop them off and pick them up. I also do
motivational speaking engagements with corporations, colleges, high
schools and different books. And then my first book, I wrote it by
myself with no ghost writers or co-authors, and that book will come out
in December.

Dr. Ken Foreman

Q: What was it like for you to learn that you had been elected to the Hall of Fame?

A:
Actually, having been nominated twice and passed over, I was in total
shock. I couldn’t believe that I had been nominated again, let alone
voted in to the Hall of Fame. It’s very exciting.

Q:  How did you first get involved in coaching?

H:  I
was coaching at a private high school in 1947, and there were a couple
of girls who hung around the edges and I started teaching them the long
jump, and interestingly enough, the shot put as well.  Subsequently
I was hired at Seattle Pacific University, where my primary coaching
responsibilities were men’s basketball, track and field and cross
country. In 1955, a high school coach called me to tell me that he had
seen a young lady on the track that was beating his best sprinters, and
he wanted to know if I would be interested in looking at her. My
professional training had told me that if a woman sweats hard or lifted
weights, her uterus would fall out (laughter). So I mulled the thing
over and finally I asked them to bring her in after my basketball
practice, which he did and we set a Coleman lantern at one end of a
cinder strip and the young lady at the other end. I shot my gun into
the night and she came flashing past the 100-yard mark in 11.5
(seconds). I had no idea what that meant. I told her to run it again
and she did in the same time and that’s when I suddenly realized this
child was running in bare feet, and I also realized she had some
talent. That was in October. In January of that year she ran in the
national AAU meet and she performed very well against Ed Temple’s
stable of Tigerbelles;  Mae Faggs, Lucinda
Williams, Willye White, etc. So I suddenly became a sprint coach and I
scarcely knew how to set up a set of blocks. Her name was Marsha
Cosgrove and she went on to win a spot on the Melbourne Olympic team in
1956. In 1957, I went back to graduate school and taught at USC for
three years, then I started coaching at Seattle Pacific again, and
that’s when Doris Brown fell into my life and she ran the first sub-5
minute mile by a woman, and I am suddenly a distance guru, and scarcely
knew how to draw up a training schedule for distance runners. So it
really was fortuitous that two outstanding young ladies came into my
life and they made a coach of me. So I began working with girls and
women at that time.

Q: Were you a track athlete before you became a coach.

A:
In high school I was a four-sport guy. I was actually the world
interscholastic rope climb champion and at 167 pounds I was fifth in
the city of Los Angeles with the 12-pound shot put – I threw 54 feet, 7
inches. When I graduated in 1940, I went to work as a carpenter, but I
was interested, for some reason, in the javelin. So I bought some
javelins, fooled around with the javelins until December 8, 1941 when I
enlisted in the Navy. When I came back I had the G.I. Bill and I went
to USC and talked to their great coach Dean Cromwell and he gave me a
pair of track shoes and a bonifide javelin, and so I began throwing the
javelin. I also started participating in gymnastics again. I injured my
heel planting the javelin and became a full-time gymnast and earned two
all-American certificates at USC as a gymnast. When I went to Seattle
Pacific they did not have any gymnastics equipment, so I started
coaching track at the college level in 1950 and have been coaching ever
since.

Q: During your career you founded the Falcon Track Club and the SportsWest Track Club. What was that like for you?

A:
We teamed up with the University of Washington for a short while
because it was very difficult raising funds for clubs. Sports
West/Nordstrom Corporation chose to sponsor us for a couple years.
Almost all the women early on were in club sports. It wasn’t until 1975
that I was able to start a university team at Seattle Pacific, and we
were one of the first college programs in America at that time and
there were no scholarships. I got some of the best athletes available
at that time at Seattle Pacific, so we had a head start and a pretty
good program in an all girl club structure.

Q:  You
are considered one of the founding fathers of the athletic program at
Seattle Pacific. What are your thoughts about your time there?

A:
I guess that’s true. They had a basketball team and they played only
local schools. In 1953, I was appointed as the athletic director. I had
what I thought was a strong track and field program. Our kids were
competing at the Drake Relays and in the national NAIA meet in 1952, so
we were headed in the right direction. I initiated cross country and we
were beating the University of Washington and all the local schools. I
hired a guy who was a baseball nut and he started a baseball program,
and we also started a wrestling program. We had our club track and
field program for girls and women operative right alongside. Somewhat
later I befriended a great gymnastics coach at the YMCA in downtown
Seattle. His name was George Lewis and he was producing Olympic quality
women’s gymnasts and I invited him to join us. I met a guy one day
while I was running along the canal building boats and he was a crew
nut and he started our crew program. I guess it’s fair to say that I
was involved with starting the athletic program at Seattle Pacific.

Q:  You
are best known to many as the coach of National Track & Field Hall
of Famer Doris Brown Heritage. What made her so special?

A:
She was not the most talented or most naturally gifted athlete that
I’ve worked with, but she certainly was the most tenacious. She just
wouldn’t give up. She always did one more than I asked her to do. She
ran the men into the ground and she was a gentle spirit. She was
initially more concerned about her compatriots on the starting line
than she was about herself. I have a great picture of her standing in
the international cross country race in Maryland and she has her hands
clasped behind her back and I’m sure she’s thinking, ‘I hope you do
well, but I hope I do better.’  She was a special lady.

Q:  You coached a number of Olympians during your career. How special is it to lead someone to those heights?

A:  Well
it’s pretty special. I make no claims about having done so unless I
worked at least two years with an athlete. I could name seven such
persons that I had the privilege to work with all the way to the
Olympic Games. I guess, in the coaching profession, if you get somebody
to stand on the top of the podium at any level it is a pretty heady
experience. But seeing your athletes in a USA uniform competing in an
international competition is more than heady. It frequently has brought
me to tears to see my athletes performing, competing at that level.  I
don’t know what else I can say. It’s a great, great personal thrill to
even be associated with such people, but to know that you might’ve had
a little part in their lives, helping them get there is a great, great
satisfaction.

Q:  What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in coaching?

A:
I would have to go back to the fact that I played a significant role in
creating opportunities for women to participate in sports. As I look
back at my career spanning over 62 years now, I hold that as one of the
top things that I’ve been permitted to do. Secondly, being able to
associate with such a vast number of great, great human beings, both as
athletes and as fellow coaches, I don’t know how anybody could want any
more from their life than that.

Q: What are you doing these days?

A:
I’m coaching at a high school. When we moved to Hawaii, my wife is a
purser for Delta Airlines and she was moved, so I had to resign my
position at Seattle Pacific in 1999. We arrived here and discovered
that the local high school was looking for a track coach, and so I
volunteered before actually being hired. I’ve coached their cross
country and track teams for the last 10 years. I also spend three to
four hours a day trying to write and I have a yard that needs lots of
attention. I build rock walls and pour cement sidewalks. My life is as
full as it possibly can be.

Andre Phillips

Q: What’s it like to be a Hall of Famer?

A:
For me it’s humbling and I’m very honored to be in the company of all
the 400m hurdlers and all the people that have been inducted prior to
me getting in there. Also for me, I knew since about 1976 when Edwin
Moses won in Montreal that I really wanted to be a hurdler. So that in
itself is awesome. It’s great.

Q: How did you first get involved in track and field?

A:
I was in eighth grade and I watched my older brother run in high school
as a sophomore. I think he ran the 400 meters and that’s when I became
interested in track and field. Also at that time growing up I was one
of ten kids, so there wasn’t a lot of money to play organized sports,
whether it be PAL football, baseball or any of those other sports. In
track and field all I needed to do was just run – have tennis shoes and
just run, so it was an easy sport for me to get in to without having to
pay.

Q: What do you remember most about your high school career?

A:
It worked out well. I started out as a high jumper and then I started
running the hurdles, pretty much after seeing Edwin. I ended up winning
the high school state meet my senior year and becoming an all-American,
so I thought it went well. My junior and senior years were two great
years.

Q: Why did you choose to attend UCLA?

A:
I knew when I was 11 that I wanted to go to UCLA. I didn’t know why or
how. I remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing in a game, and at that time
he was Lew Alcindor, and I knew back then that I wanted to go to UCLA.
When the opportunity arose I jumped on it. I went to a community
college for two years, and then I went to UCLA my junior and senior
years. My junior year wasn’t as satisfying as I would’ve liked, but my
senior year I won the NCAAs and broke the UCLA school record a couple
times, and that was a good year for me.

Q: What was it about Edwin Moses that inspired you?

A:
The fact that he won with class. I never heard him gloat or brag or
turn around and look at us or put his hands up. I remember many times
he was way ahead of the field and I always thought that was very
classy. The other thing is that he revolutionized that event with his
stride pattern, his long legs and the way he ran. He made that event
more glamorous and exciting to get in to and I think that’s the reason
why it is the way it is today.

Q: At the 1988 Olympic Games you beat Moses for the only time in his career. What was that like for you?

A:
When I came across the line and realized that I’d won, I automatically
didn’t think that I won the gold, it was I finally won one against
Edwin. That was my initial thought. Winning the gold was the secondary
thought. To me he’s one of the greatest athletes – period – of all time.

Q:
You held the Olympic record until four years later when Kevin Young set
the world record at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Was it disappointing
to lose the Olympic record?

A:
He’s a former Bruin, and I remember when he first started out I did my
best to help him out as much as I could with the hurdles. So if anybody
was going to break it, I was glad that he did it.

Q: What do you think of first when you look back at your career in track and field?

A:
I think for me it’s the camaraderie between the athletes. It’s also
knowing that at that given point in time I did my best. Whether I was
injured, sick or had a bad race, I know that I did my best. But first
and foremost it’s all the guys. When you first stop traveling and
running you think about all the people that you traveled with and all
the camaraderie.

Q:  What is your life like these days for you after track and field?

A:
I started off teaching special education, and then I went on to get my
masters in education and became an assistant principal at a big
comprehensive high school, and I enjoyed it. I knew at some point that
I was going to work with kids. I didn’t know if it would be in coaching
at a university or teaching or doing what I’m doing now.

Q:
Earlier in your life you had assistance from family, teachers and
coaches, and here you are many years later helping youngsters. Does it
feel like your life has come full circle?

A: Absolutely. I heard
this great line not so long ago that “service to others is the rent you
pay for living,” and that’s so true. I feel blessed and rewarded every
time I can turn a kid around. Even those days when I have to discipline
or suspend a kid, I always let them know that I still like them, but I
don’t like their behavior. I do whatever I can to make that kid turn
around.

Randy Williams

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