Olympian Rochelle Stevens (center) was tapped by William Anderson, LeMoyne-Owen College’s athletics director, to coach the school’s track and field program. Dr. Vernell Bennett-Fairs is LOC’s president. Photo by Wiley Henry

By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — Dr. Rochelle Stevens – a silver medal winner in track and field at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and a gold medal winner in the same event at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta – is LeMoyne-Owen College’s new head men and women track and field coach.

William Anderson, LOC’s athletics director, made the announcement at the college on Oct. 28 during a news conference with LOC President Dr. Vernell Bennett-Fairs, who’d tapped Anderson in July to run the athletics department.

Former NBA head coach Lionel Hollins, recently selected as LOC’s assistant men’s basketball coach, joins Head Coach Gawen DeAngelo “Bonzi” Wells, a former NBA standout, to complete the ensemble. 

This is an awesome step “to increase our academic and athletic programs,” Bennett-Fairs said, then paid homage to Stevens: “We’re honored to have an Olympian.”

Charged with restoring LOC to its former glory, Anderson phoned Stevens in August, who mulled over the opportunity and then agreed to take on the coaching duties at the historically Black college. 

“It is an honor and pleasure to introduce our new head men and women track and field coach,” Anderson said. “We’re really excited about the spirit, the passion and the expertise she’s going to bring to start our track and field program again.”

LOC’s track and field program has been inactive since 1998. Though Stevens’ first day on the job is Nov. 8, the season kicks off in the fall of 2022. The first meet will be indoors in January 2023, she said.

 Stevens, an 11-time All-American, an NCAA champion, and a member of 8 halls of fame, was gracious in her acceptance speech and said to Bennett-Fairs: “Our goal is to make you look good.”

Bennett-Fairs hoisted both thumbs, indicating approval, then clapped.

“I’m looking forward to shaping and molding our student athletes,” the new coach said. “I have all the secret ingredients that I would love to share to help expose those athletes and let everybody know who we are.”

Stevens said she’s looking forward to the task. “We are looking forward to putting LeMoyne-Owen College on the map again,” she said.

Leonard Braxton, who coached Stevens in track and field at Morgan State University in Maryland, said Stevens is a role model and that her first time at coaching is a great opportunity for her and the school. 

“She has a lot to give. She brings enthusiasm and determination [to the job],” said Braxton, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. “She strives for excellence. That’s how she functions.”

Braxton made a special trip to Memphis to support Stevens. Since she must rebuild the track and field program, he would advise her to be patient. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

Even so, Braxton is certain Stevens will prevail. “She has the world at her feet,” he said.

Stevens’ mother and Olympic coach, Apostle Beatrice H. Davis, is just as excited for her daughter and her opportunity to coach. Like Braxton, she believes Stevens will do a good job. 

“It’s her passion,” said Davis, who pastors Word of Life Healing Ministry. “It’s a great opportunity for her to help them and equip them in life,” she said, referring to the student athletes. “It’s a challenge, but she’s up to the challenge.”

“I have a skill-set to be able to train others. Because of my track meet and foundation. I’ve helped so many athletes with their training, with the nutritional side, the mental preparation of it,” Stevens said.

Over 30,000 athletes, she said frankly. 

To avoid a conflict, the new coach conferred with the NCAA. She got her answer: The Rochelle Stevens Invitational Track Meet has been grandfathered in since it’s been ongoing for 30 years.

“So, it would not be a conflict of interest or in violation of any NCAA rules,” she underscored.

The Rochelle Stevens Foundation, launched in 1990 to inspire and develop the next generation of track stars, will continue as well.

“I want to encourage our young people to dream and to dream big,” said Stevens. “The turning point for me [in accepting the position] was to be able to give – and to give at a higher level.” 

A product of the Orange Mound community, Stevens spring-boarded to success from Melrose High School. Her mettle was first tested on the track and field there before she blazed a path to the Olympics. 

 “I just don’t want to let my athletics director down, and the community down,” Stevens said.