Legendary Coach Dr. LeRoy Walker Passes Away at 93
NEW ORLEANS – Dr. LeRoy Walker – the first African-American coach of the U.S. Olympic Track & Field team, the first African-American president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and former longtime coach at N.C. Central – died Monday at the age of 93. The legendary LeRoy Walker was a member of the USTFCCCA’s Inaugural Coaches Hall of Fame Class in 1995.
In 1945, Walker accepted a position as a football and basketball coach at North Carolina Central (then North Carolina Central College). In the offseason, he started a track & field program as conditioning for his players, a decision that led to a long and highly successful career as North Carolina Central’s track & field coach. Walker remained head coach at North Carolina Central until 1973; during that time he also earned a Ph.D. from New York University (1957). After his retirement from coaching, Walker continued his involvement with North Carolina Central, serving as Vice Chancellor from 1974-83 and as Chancellor from 1983-86.
During Walker’s coaching career at North Carolina Central, he coached athletes to 11 Olympic medals and sent track & field athletes to every Olympic Games from 1956 to 1980. His stellar reputation began when Lee Calhoun won back-to-back Gold Medals in the 110m hurdles in the 1956 and 1960 Summer Games. In all, Walker coached eight Olympians, 30 national champions, and 80 All Americans. He also served as a coach or consultant for several foreign Olympic Teams from 1960 through 1972, and in 1976, he was named the U.S. men’s head coach, the first African-American man to serve in that position.
Walker also served in a number of national leadership roles for the sport of track & field. He was chairman of the AAU men’s track & field committee from 1973-76 and the coordinator of coaching assignments for the AAU and TAC (forerunner to USATF) from 1973-80. He became TAC president from 1984-88 and later served as senior vice president for sport of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. He also served as President of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1992-96.
Also, as a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (the first major study of the topic in 66 years) in 1991-92, he made strides toward key athletic reforms. He is the author of three major books on physical education and track & field, and in 1977, Walker became the first African American president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD).
Walker was the 2009 recipient of the USTFCCCA George Dales Award – given to a distinguished individual who, through their efforts, enhanced the profession of coaching track and field and cross country.
As a talented collegiate athlete at Benedict College, Walker earned 11 letters in football, basketball, and track & field before graduating in 1940, and he went on to earn a master’s degree at Columbia University in 1941. He then served two one-year stints at Benedict and Bishop Colleges as chair of the departments of physical education and recreation before accepting a position at Prairie View A&M University. In addition to working as a physical education instructor and track & field coach, Walker contributed to the war effort as director of the Army Specialized Training Program.
Walker has received many honors and awards in his long career. He is a member of 14 Halls of Fame, including the North Carolina Central University Athletics and USATF Halls of Fame. He was the first African American to receive the James J. Corbett Memorial Award (1993), the top honor granted by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. While carrying out his duties as USOC president and CEO, Walker continued to occupy an office on the NCCU campus, where he was chancellor emeritus. In 1996, Walker was named the first President Emeritus of the U.S. Olympic Committee.