George Williams: The Legend
I’m excited to write HBCU Game Time, powered by BOX TO ROW for JET! As host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all sports, with an emphasis on our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with pro sports and some entertainment sprinkled in from time to time.
These are common words we tend to use even if they don’t apply to a situation or person. Merriam-Webster defines the term dynasty as a family, team, etc., that is very powerful or successful for a long period of time. It defines legend as a famous or important person who is known for doing something extremely well. I would take it a step further and say the success of that person has to happen over a period of time.
Saint Augustine’s University track and field coach George “Pup” Williams embodies both terms.
Saint Aug’s won its second-straight NCAA Division II Men’s outdoor championship on May 24. For Williams, it was his 12th men’s outdoor title and 35th under the legend who has led the program for 38 years.
“It’s not regular,” said Williams, when asked about winning another championship. “It’s a different group of student-athletes every four years.”
Even more impressive than the success of the program, which has included numerous Olympians such as Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, Williams has a 95-percent graduation rate. Seventeen of his student-athletes walked across the stage at the Raleigh, North Carolina school on May 10.
The building of a legend began in 1965 when Williams graduated Saint Augustine’s College. He was one of the first to integrate the Wake County School System, becoming a teacher shortly after graduation. He also earned his master’s degree at North Carolina Central University. He came back to Saint Aug’s as an assistant basketball coach.
In 1976, he was asked to be the track and field coach on an interim basis. When starting out, Williams sought the advice of three legendary sports figures: Dr. Leroy T. Walker, the first African-American to coach the U.S. men’s track and field team in 1976; Clarence “Big House” Gaines, who coached at Winston-Salem State from 1946 to 1993 and became the first African-American coach to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame; and John McClendon, who was a pioneering basketball coach and became the first African-American coach of a professional team.
“I went to the master, Dr. Walker,” Williams said. “I then went to my other best friend, Big House Gaines, because he was a winner and I asked him what constitutes winning.
“Every year at the CIAA [Tournament], I would have breakfast with Dr. Walker, Big House and John McClendon. I would talk with these super men who I always admired,” he continued. “They didn’t have a whole lot, but they were winners. I understood then it didn’t take a whole lot of things, but a whole lot of love, understanding of young people, and hard work to make it happen.”
Just like his mentor, Dr. Walker, Williams was selected as the U.S. men’s Olympic track and field coach for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The team won nine gold, 13 silver and three bronze medals.
“It felt great to be selected by my peers” said Williams, who was an assistant coach in the 1996 Olympic summer games in Atlanta. “It was a tough experience and was stressful, but I had a great coaching staff.”
After all of the accomplishments, what’s next for Williams?
“A new group of kids,” he said.
And another shot at a national championship.
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