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January 19, 2005 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-01-19

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14A - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 19, 2005
WOMEN'S TRACK & FELD
Track meet named for legendary coach Simmons6

By Chastity L Rolling
Daily Sports Writer
Even before Nike launched its "Just Do It"
campaign in 1988, Michigan track coach Ken-
neth "Red" Simmons used this expression to
motivate his athletes to do their best.
But, at the time, there was something different
about Simmons's athletes - they were female.
Simmons started the women's track and field
program at Michigan. Despite all the hardships
and setbacks that stood in his way, Simmons just
did it.
Now, at the age of 95, Simmons is retired in
Ann Arbor and is enjoying his legacy. And on
Saturday, the Michigan track team will host the
19th Annual Red Simmons Invitational.
Simmons, who got his nickname "Red" from
his vibrant red hair, graduated from Eastern
Michigan in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science
degree. He also represented the United States as
a member of the 1932 Olympic track and field
team, where he qualified for the 440-meter hur-
dle semifinals.
The Olympics later inspired his interest in
starting a women's track team at Michigan.

"It all began when me and my first wife, Betty,
went to the 1960 Olympics in Rome," Simmons
said. "The girls looked so bad, we wanted to help
the women out."
In the 1960 Olympics, the United States team
was dominated by males. Female participants in
all sports took home just 11 of the 71 total med-
als that were earned by the United States.
"It is not that the women didn't desire to do
well," Simmons said. "They lacked opportunity
for competition. Many times, the women ath-
letes had to practice themselves, while the men
received professional training."
Simmons changed this. He came back home
to Ann Arbor and told Betty, who taught physi-
cal education at Slauson Junior High School, to
send the best female in her gym class to his train-
ing base at Michigan. Betty sent over Francea
Goodridge.
"Meeting (Simmons) was life changing,"
Goodridge, whose maiden name, said. "Before
he came along, there was no opportunity for
women sports.
"But he approached the situation very mat-
ter-of-factly. When I told him something that
I couldn't do, he'd say, 'Just do it'. The experi-

ence of training has changed my life, because ,in
addition to developing my physical and mental
strength, it also gave me confidence."
When she was 13 years old, Goodridge
became the first female to train with Simmons .
Simmons trained her just like he had trained his
male athletes.
About a year after recruiting Goodridge,
Simmons's launched the first Ann Arbor
women's track and field club, the Michi-
gammes. He coached all of the club's events
and drove the buses to the meets. The run-
ners' mothers made the first team uniforms
and went to Kmart to buy shoes for the team.
Simmons was determined to give his female
athletes a fair chance.
"All the girls needed were facilities, equip-
ment, coaches and training," Simmons said.
"Back then, female athletes didn't have the
competitive experience. There was a lot of
times they told me they couldn't do something,
like run the mile. Then, I'd tell them to jog it.
But just do it."
In the 1960s, there were no varsity sports for
women at Michigan. As a result, it was unheard
of for females to weight train. Many people

believed it was not ladylike for women to sweat.
But Simmons thinks that both his athletes -
and even those today - have found a balance.
"The ladies know they are athletes on the
track and ladies off the track," Simmons said.
While Simmons was busy trying to recruit
females for his team, he realized that other
women's teams were forming. Simmons saw
his influence around the state of Michigan
through the development of women's track
teams.
Under Simmons's coaching, Goodridge
became the first Michigan, and Ann Arbor, native
to earn a spot on the women's Olympic track and
field team. In 1968, she ran in the 800-meter
race, and in 1972, she competed in the inaugural
1500-meter Olympics race for women.
The Michigammes, which became a
varsity team in 1978, won seven national
championships, 19 state championships and
numerous state cross country and track and
field championships.
When Simmons retired in 1981, he passed the
baton to Goodridge. She coached the team to its
first Big Ten Championship in 1983.
Goodridge coached the team until 1984.

After she left, Simmons lobbied for current
coach James Henry - who Simmons had hired
to assist his coaching staff when Henry was a
graduate student at Michigan - to carry on his
legacy. Thanks to Simmons, Henry got the job
and has held it for 20 years.
"He saw potential in me even I was not aware
of," Henry said. "But I learned a lot from watch-
ing him coach, like it is important to know your
athletes and to treat them like athletes."
The encouragement that Henry attained from
Simmons has paid off, both for him and for the
women's track team. Since he took over the
reins in 1985, Henry has led the team to 11 Big
Ten Championships.
Simmons launched what is now a thriving
and prosperous program at Michigan. Today,
there are numerous cross country and track and
field teams serving that allow women to exer-
cise their minds and bodies. For Goodridge,
the women's track team is a celebration of
women's liberation.
"It symbolizes political freedom beyond being
able to train and compete," Goodridge said. "It is
an affirmation of women's equality."
In other words, they just did it.

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