Al Buehler, the 2011 Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award winner.

Al Buehler, the 2011 Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award winner.

For 56 years the positive impact of Duke University Track and Field Coach Al Buehler has been felt at the college and internationally on and off the track, earning him the 2011 Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award from the United States Sports Academy.

Buehler joined Duke in 1955 and over the next half century he helped integrate the university, championed women’s athletics and Title IX and even worked to improve racial and international relations through the sport.

During the height of segregation, Buehler formed a lasting friendship with Dr. LeRoy Walker, a former chairman of the Academy’s Board of Trustees. When Walker was head coach at the all black North Carolina Central University, Buehler allowed them to train on Duke’s track. During the Olympics in 1968 in Mexico City, John Carlos and Tommie Smith sparked international controversy and were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village for bowing their heads and raising their fists while on the medal stand in support of the American civil rights struggle. It was Buehler who showed up and delivered them safely to the airport.

When Ellison Goodall asked Buehler about running for Duke, he helped form the women’s track team. He gave up all of his men’s scholarships so that Duke could offer them to female athletes when Title IX took effect in 1972 to provide women equal opportunities on college campuses.

On the track, Buehler also experienced success until his retirement from coaching in 2000. He led Duke to seven Penn Relay titles and won six ACC cross country championships; coached five Olympians; arranged for Duke to host the USSR Meet in 1974 and the USA-Pan Africa-Federal Republic of Germany Meet in 1975; and served as team manager of the U.S. track and field team at Olympic Games in Munich (1972), Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988).

Despite an inoperable benign brain tumor, the 80-year-old Buehler remains a vital part of Duke, leading an employee fitness group and teaching an introductory P.E. course, “History & Issues of American Sports.” A documentary, “Starting at the Finishing Line: The Coach Buehler Story,” by Amy Unell and produced by Grant Hill and Ann Rubenstein Tisch was released in April this year.

The Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated a concern for mankind and exhibited the qualities of dedication, grace under pressure, personal sacrifice, compassion, hope, and dignity that characterize the promotion of human welfare and social reform.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson broke the baseball color barrier by displaying his skills, while at the same time subjugating his pride, to prove an awareness of our failings as well as his abilities. Had he lacked the discipline, not to mention the dedication, America and sport would be spiritually and athletically poorer.