Dr. LeRoy Walker, a former United States Sports Academy Board of Trustees chairman and legendary track coach at North Carolina Central University, died recently in Durham, N.C. He was 93.
During his coaching career that spanned four decades, Walker became the first black person in 1993 to be elected president of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). In 1976, he was named head coach of the men’s U.S. Olympic track and field team for the Montreal Olympics, becoming the first black to head a team in any sport. Walker was at the helm of the U.S. team when the 1996 Centennial Olympics were held in his hometown of Atlanta.
Walker inspired more than 100 All-Americans, 40 national champions and 12 Olympians in track and field. In 1983, he was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, and four years later, he was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame for his many contributions to the Olympic movement.
Academy President and CEO Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich credits Walker for helping the sports university during his two stints on its Board of Trustees from 1984-88 and 1997-2000.
“He was a great man who had great ideas and contributed tremendously to the Academy,” Rosandich says. “Dr. Walker was a giant in American sport and he provided great leadership to us.”
Walker earned a bachelor’s degree from a historically black school, Benedict College of Columbia, S.C., in 1940. He wanted to become a physician but medical school spots for blacks were severely limited. Instead, a year later he received a master’s degree from Columbia University in health and physical education. He earned his doctorate from New York University in biomechanics in 1957.
He actually arrived to N.C. Central in Durham in 1945 to coach football and basketball but started a track team as a way to condition his athletes. He built a reputation as a demanding, detail-oriented coach, training athletes such as Lee Calhoun, who won the Olympic gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles in the 1956 and 1960 Games.
Walker was president of the Athletics Congress (now USA Track & Field), the sport’s national governing body, from 1984-88. He advised or coached Olympic teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, Israel, Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago, helped organize an American-Pan African meet and took an American track squad to China.
“What happened to my athletes is what I remember. Not only the All Americans or the national champions or the Olympic medalists, I take pride in what all my athletes are doing now,” Walker, known as Doc, once said. “When I see them as doctors and lawyers and strong citizens in their community, I think that influence is what pleases me most.”
Walker’s survivors include his son, LeRoy Jr., and his daughter, Carolyn Walker Hoppe. His wife, Katherine, died in 1978.