Track and field doesn’t enjoy much notoriety in this country other than in Olympic years. Over recent decades, the sport has gotten less and less coverage and exposure on television, in newspapers, magazines and online. Lots of high schools have either de-emphasized or in some cases dropped it, while others only use it as a way to get exercise in the offseason for football and basketball players. Some major events like the Penn Relays that used to be huge network showcases only get sporadic mention now, while even an event like the World Championships doesn’t get the coverage that it deserves other than when it is viewed as a precursor to the Olympics.
But at Tennessee State University, track and field remains something far more than just another sport. TSU has been one of the nation’s leaders in track and field for decades, dating back to the glory days of the ‘60s. Indeed, TSU has not just been a pioneer in the sport, they’ve been a trailblazer thanks to the feats of the legendary coach Ed Temple and his Tigerbelles.
Temple, who passed away last year, gave the squad their name and led them to unprecedented glory over his 41-year coaching career that also included stints with the Olympic and Pan American teams. The Tigerbelles had 23 Olympic medalists (13 gold, six silver, four bronze), and won 24 national titles. Such famous names as Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, Willie White and Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, the current Tigerbelles coach, all achieved national and international fame as Tigerbelles under Temple.
While no one will ever again duplicate Temple’s feats, Cheesborough-Guice is continuing his tradition of developing champions. Last week Amber Hughes became the second straight Tigerbelle to win the Ohio Valley Conference Female Athlete of the Year award. This was voted by the OVC’s athletic and sports information directors. She follows 2016 recipient Clairwin Dameus as the sole TSU Female Athlete of the Year award winners. Hughes has certainly enjoyed a banner season, one reminiscent of past Tigerbelle greats. She won four gold medals at the OVC Indoor Championships, along with an individual silver and one with the 4x400m relay team, and earned Female Athlete of the Championship. Later, Hughes won USTFCCCA Second Team All-America honors for the triple jump after placing 11th at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas.
She was equally impressive during the outdoor season, winning OVC Field Athlete of the Year. At the OVC Outdoor Championships, Hughes accounted for three individual gold medals, plus one in the 4x400m relay, as well as one individual bronze. She was again awarded Female Athlete of the Championship. She has won 26 OVC individual gold medals. Her quest continues this week at the NCAA championships on June 10.
Unfortunately, not only does track and field not get the attention and publicity it deserves nationwide, it is seldom covered that extensively even locally. Fans seldom pack stadiums for track meets, even championships. Some great athletes who could be tremendous in track and field instead languish on football and basketball benches because there are more scholarships available in those sports.
Thankfully, TSU is one place that still nurtures and develops great track and field performers. Amber Hughes is just the latest in a long line of superb Tigerbelles, and thankfully there’s no sign that this tradition will be waning or ending anytime soon.