April 14, 2012
This year is the 40th anniversary for Title IX. Some would say it was the most important legislation passed for women and girls in the United States since women obtained the right to vote in 1920. In 1966, the University of Michigan women's track program started its first club team. Twelve years later in 1978, the Wolverines had their first U-M varsity team.
Red Simmons was Michigan's club coach and first varsity coach. And it took him a long time to get that moniker. He was born in 1910, 10 years prior to the Women's Voting Right Act of 1920.
A Michigan Normal (Eastern Michigan) grad, he ran track on cinders, worked the greatest day in track history when Jesse Owens broke four world records in Ann Arbor, and worked as a Detroit policeman for 25 years, before he came to Ann Arbor and developed an Ann Arbor running club.
Today, we talk about Red in the past tense. He has passed away at the age of 102. The thought of not seeing Red walking through the athletic department offices won't sink in for a while.
Those who have met Red Simmons over the past 20 years probably would not know about his history. They would have known Red and his wife Lois as Michigan's number one sports fans. They weren't just U-M sports' fans; they were fixtures at almost every one of our home events for almost every sport.
Then Lois suffered health issues and those challenges started to take a toll on Red. He was still driving his Chevrolet to the athletic campus early this year and working out or walking the steps at Crisler Center. And he was still eager to talk about U-M athletics and especially the student-athletes he coached and got to know. But you could see Red was slowing down. After all, he was a centenarian.
He attended the first football game at Michigan Stadium in 1927, hitchhiking to the game as a 17 year old. He knew Fritz Crisler. He knew Bennie Oosterbaan. He knew the Bill Watsons, Eddie Tolans and other Michigan track greats. He was friends with Jesse Owens and ran against the legendary sprinter a number of times in exhibitions.
Even when he was in 90s, he participated and won medals in the Senior Olympics, laughing that it was easy to win a medal when there were only one or two competitors ready to take you on. He was also eager to show his picture with Owens and talk about his Lifetime Achievement Award when he was honored at an Eastern Michigan football game when he was 100 years old.
He loved Francie Kraker Goodridge. She began her training with Red when she was 14 and then went on to run in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics. More important to Red, she was also the first young woman to become a member of the Michigammes --- Ann Arbor's first female track club.
He would also you the stories about his first meeting with Crisler and how he convinced Don Canham to give him time on the Michigan varsity track to develop the women's track program.
All of our varsity sports teams at Michigan had a warm spot in their heart for Red but the women's teams loved him even more -- and it is easy to see why. We are all going to miss Red Simmons, but we can count our blessings that he decided to live the last 50 years of his life in Ann Arbor.
Red will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
May he rest in peace.