February 8: Celebrating Benedict Alumnus, NCCU Chancellor and U.S. Olympics Pioneer LeRoy T. Walker

Dr. LeRoy Walker was the grandson of slaves, the youngest of 13 children and the first in his family to go to college, enrolling at Benedict College in South Carolina in 1936 on an athletic scholarship. He graduated in under four years, Magna Cum Laude.

A star athlete at Benedict, he would go on to coach football and basketball at North Carolina College (today, NC College is known as North Carolina Central) and establish the college’s track team. He coached a number of NCCU athletes to the Olympics between 1956 and 1980, and boasted 11 Olympic gold medals, 40 national championships, and 80 All-Americans in his time. He also served as a coaching consultant, and would coach big names such as Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner and Morehouse alumnus Edwin Moses, and in 1976, he became the first African-American to coach an Olympic team. Walker became chancellor of NCCU in 1983 and retired in 1986. He was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1987.

Coach LeRoy T. Walker gives advice to 400 meter hurdler Edwin Moses, who would go on to win gold medals in the event at the 1976 and 1984 Olympic games.

“Excellence of performance in all aspects is an expectation. The pursuit of excellence must be a passion,” he often said.

He left NCCU to become treasurer and then chief of mission at the United States Olympic Committee. In 1992, at the age of 80, he became the first Black president of the United States Olympic Committee, leading efforts to prepare for the 1996 games in his hometown of Atlanta. In 1993 he became the first African American to receive the James J. Corbett Memorial Award, the top honor granted by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of America. He was also awarded the United States Sports Academy’s Eagle Award, the Academy’s highest international honor.

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com