Coach Fred Thompson, who passed away at 85 this January 22, 2019, was a true pioneer in coaching and developing women’s track and field – years before the advent of Title IX. As a young child in Brooklyn, his aunt became a key role model and, as he told the New York Times in 1979, she told him to get an education – because once you have a college diploma, nobody can take it away from you – and to simply get involved with people. Thompson would get enough education to become an attorney and, to satisfy the directive to get involved with people, he started the Atoms Track Club in 1963 – a time when opportunities for girls in track and field were few and far between – having realized that girls simply weren’t getting what they needed in terms of physical education and sports. He had loved track growing up, became a prep standout at Boys High, and then was a quarter-miler at City College. He got his law degree from St. John’s University.
Thompson made sure he wasn’t just a highly educated coach, but also a friend and an advocate as he helped girls and young women navigate all of their challenges – whether they had to do with athletics, families, education, economic status or anything else that stood in the way of their becoming successful in life. Countless national and world class athletes were developed by him over the years, including Olympians Grace Jackson, Lorna Forde, Joetta Clark, Cheryl Toussaint and former world record holder Diane Dixon – among many others.
“The Atoms stands for excellence in education, trying to better yourself in this society, and one way to do that is to go to college and get that piece of paper,” he told the NY Times. His greatest joy during those first 15 years was that the club produced 50 college graduates – despite great economic challenges.
Coach Thompson founded the Colgate Women’s Games in 1974 with the support of Colgate Palmolive Company, which has remained the program’s title sponsor for more than four decades. He became the event’s full-time meet director – it’s really a series of meets covering the entire indoor season – for 40 years before relinquishing the reins to Cheryl Toussaint in 2014. For the first 10 years of its existence, the Colgate Women’s Games – providing indoor track and field competition for 1000s of girls and women of all ages in New York – was one of the only places for high school and youth age female athletes to compete in an organized fashion.
Did You Know?
Frd Thompson was also the 1988 US Olympic Track team sprint coach in Seoul, South Korea.