COMPOSURE: Ed Temple

This month’s “C” word is COMPOSURE, which, in the “C” You In The Major Leagues lexicon means that a person is calm in the eye of the storm; slows the game down; poised; and shows self-control. With all that’s going on in the world today, the late Ed Temple comes to mind as a coach who embodied COMPOSURE (along with each of our other “C” words). The following is from interviews he did with our director Matt Fulks.

It’s easy in the heat of battle to forget about composure. To get lost in the moment. To let emotions take over. That’s true of athletes, of course, but what about leaders – on the field or in a boardroom? What about for a coach fighting segregation and equality for women in the South … in the 1950s.

In an era when the United States was divided into black and white, men and women, Ed Temple took a group of young ladies from a virtually unknown school in Nashville, and transformed the Tennessee State University Tigerbelles into one of the most prominent track and field programs in the world.

Ed Temple and his wife Charlie in 1997. Temple used to quip: “I’m the only man whose wife approved of him going with fast women.”

“We had to fight a lot of things. We had to fight racial segregation and segregation of women in sports,” Temple told me years ago while I was working on my first book. “We just had a struggle when you look at it. I’m amazed that we were able to overcome that. I don’t think I could go through that again.”

Amazingly, from his more than four decades of coaching at TSU, 1951-93, Temple had 34 national team titles and 30 Pan-American Games medal winners. Forty of his Tigerbelles became Olympians. When he retired, Temple had been associated with more Olympic medals, 23, than any other individual. From 1956-68, Temple’s Tigerbelles won eight of the United States’ 11 Olympic women’s track medals.

How does that happen? It’s easy to brush it off as good recruiting at a time when women — especially black women — didn’t have great opportunities to compete athletically in college. So, it should have been easy for Temple, considering he was at one of the few all-black colleges that had a women’s track team, right? Not necessarily. You would be hard pressed to find a media outlet promoting a women’s track team from an all-black school in Nashville. Temple tried to explain it to me.

“We started with word of mouth,” he said. “For the first five years I was there, I didn’t have a budget to recruit. Two or three times I just went out on my own, because I was determined to get good girls in here. We started with Mae Faggs and built up from there.”

Faggs was the first American woman to compete in three Olympics, and she medaled in both the 1952 and 1956 Games. At Tennessee State, where she was known as the “mother of the Tigerbelles,” she helped set the stage for future Olympians such as Wilma Rudolph, who, in 1960, became the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.

For Temple to say they didn’t have a budget to recruit would be an understatement. During his 40-plus years of coaching at Tennessee State, Temple said that on paper his largest budget ever was $100,000. Again, that’s on paper. By the time track season rolled around, it wouldn’t be uncommon for football or the other men’s sports to take a large chunk of that pie. In the early years, the program’s budget was $5,000, and the team traveled to meets in a station wagon.

When the Tigerbelles were able to stop in a small Southern town on one of their two road trips during the season, they had to go to the back of restaurants to be served, and usually could not use the public restrooms.

“We would stop and the girls would just have to hit the field,” Temple said. “Times were tough.”

Indeed, but Temple didn’t fight it. He didn’t cry foul. He didn’t try to go to a school in the North or out West. He didn’t get angry when European reporters at the Olympics would remind him about how unfairly he and his athletes were being treated in the South. He stayed focused on producing great teams with athletes who’d be great women after they graduated.

Of the 40 Olympians that competed for Temple, 39 graduated from TSU, and the other one finished her degree at Chicago State. Of those 40, 28 of them earned their master’s degrees, and 12 received either an M.D. or a Ph.D.

“To see them do so well (academically) is the main thing for me,” Temple said. “When we were coming along, I always advocated education because there was nothing left in track and field after they graduated. It was awfully important for them to get their degrees, which they did.”

Of course, at that time and at that school, most of Temple’s Tigerbelles were on work-aid, not on athletic scholarships. Still, Temple won. And his girls won.

“When people ask me what I want to be known for or remembered for, I tell them simply that we made a contribution,” he said. “Now that I’m retired and look back on it, I think it was all worthwhile, but of course it was hard. Somebody asked me if I would go back and repeat it. I don’t know. If I was guaranteed the success I had, I would probably do it again. But just going back out of the blue sky not knowing … it was just awful rough.”

If Ed Temple hadn’t been a leader with incredible COMPOSURE, would the outcome have been the same in the 1950s or today? Would the Tennessee State program have been so successful? Would the women’s U.S. track team have been successful in the Olympics? Probably not.

Whether it’s at home, at work, or even with a church committee, do you lead with COMPOSURE?

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