ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A pivotal figure in American track and field has died. Ed Temple is one of just a handful of coaches in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. He led two women's teams in the 1960s, mostly of his own runners from Tennessee State University. Temple died last night. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville has this appreciation.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Ed Temple started coaching when many schools didn't even have a women's team, and he produced one of the greatest runners of all time - Wilma Rudolph. He talked to WPLN last year.
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ED TEMPLE: You know, the '60 Olympics in Rome where Wilma won her three gold medals - that opened up the door I think for women's sports - period.
FARMER: In all, Temple trained 40 Olympians, and administrators say they all went on to get a degree. In an oral history interview, Temple said he'd assemble the team after every semester.
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TEMPLE: I'd go to the registrar's office, and I'd get the grades of every girl.
FARMER: He'd read their report cards aloud.
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TEMPLE: Now, a lot of people used to criticize me; well, I wouldn't do that in front of all of them. I'd call them in there individual and tell them. No, I want everybody to know.
FARMER: Temple was a tell-it-like-it-is taskmaster. Don't even think about being late to practice or missing curfew. His athletes could only ride in his car - a nine-passenger DeSoto station wagon which for many years doubled as a team bus.
WYOMIA TYUS: His rule was always there's the right way, the wrong way, and there's his way.
FARMER: Wyomia Tyus was one of Temple's proteges. She won gold in the 1964 games, then set a world record four years later. But when she got back on campus, there was no favoritism.
TYUS: And I think that was the best thing. Coach Temple never treated his Olympians any different than the girls that did not make the Olympic team.
FARMER: The Tigerbelles of Tennessee State, as they were known, were tight. Not only did they have to fight with male sports for recognition. They also faced intense racism. Journalist Dwight Lewis says they were sometimes not permitted to use the restroom in the field house. But Lewis, who's writing a book on the famed coach, says Temple didn't dwell on the discrimination.
DWIGHT LEWIS: But he didn't go out and beat drums, saying, we're suffering; we're suffering; we're suffering. They did what they had to do.
FARMER: Temple was a matter-of-fact leader, but he was proud, most of all of Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio to become the fastest woman in the world at the time. Temple attended her funeral where an Olympic flag draped the coffin.
LEWIS: After the funeral was over, Coach Temple was given that flag. He's had it at his home, and it has not been unfolded since it draped Wilma's casket. But his wish was that - I don't want this flag unfolded until it drapes my casket.
FARMER: Ed Temple was 89 years old. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.
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