April 13, 2012
UPDATE (4/17/2012): A celebration of Red Simmons' life will be held on Thursday (April 19) at noon at the Junge Family Champions Center at 333 E. Stadium Blvd. in Ann Arbor. It is open to the public. In lieu of flowers, please make donations made to University of Michigan Women's Track. All donations will go toward the creation of the Red Simmons Room in the new track building. There will be a donation box available at the event, or donations may be mailed to Women's Track at 1000 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Former University of Michigan women's track and field coach Kenneth "Red" Simmons passed away today (Friday, April 13) at 102 years of age. Simmons was the first coach in the history of the women's track and field program and coached the squad for four seasons (1978-81) before retiring.
Simmons was born Jan. 5, 1910 in Redford, Mich. He started from humble beginnings, serving in the Detroit Police department for 25 years before devoting his life to women's track and field. Simmons started the Michigammes and became the first varsity women's track and field coach at the University of Michigan.
As a teenager, Simmons starred at Redford High School, earning all-city honors in football. But for Simmons, track was his sport. He was a two-time state champion in 1928, winning both the low and high hurdles.
Simmons was going to attend the University of Michigan, but the stock market crash in 1929 prevented him from having a job to help with tuition cost. He ended up at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan), running track and washing wrestling mats to pay for his schooling.
A member of the victorious mile relay team at the 1932 Penn Relays -- then considered the national championships -- Simmons graduated with a degree in education from Michigan Normal in 1933. Prior to his graduation, he participated in the 1932 U.S. Olympic trials.
Following his graduation from Michigan Normal, Simmons joined the Detroit Police force as a detective. While on the squad, he also participated on the department's track team, often out-running competitors half his age. He soon started weight training, something that was just becoming popular and accepted as a way of training.
In 1959, Simmons retired from the Detroit Police Department and began teaching physical education at U-M. A few days after he retired, he was offered a job at the University of Michigan by then-athletic director Fritz Crisler, who hoped that Simmons would teach Michigan athletes his training methods. While teaching weight training, first aid, boxing and wrestling classes, Simmons completed his master's degree in physical education.
In 1960, after a trip to the Olympics, he, along with his first wife Betty, started the first Ann Arbor Women's Track Club, "The Michigammes." Their idea was to allow women the chance to compete. His first member, Francie Kraker Goodridge, went on to become the first native Michigan woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. She competed in the 800 meters at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and in the 1,500 meters at the 1972 Games in Munich. All told, the Michigammes produced three Olympians, in Goodridge, Sperry Jones and Micki King, even though Jones and King punched their ticket to the Olympics in other sports. Jones competed as a kayaker at the 1968 and 1972 Games, while King won a gold medal in diving in 1972.
With the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972, the need for the Michigammes slowly slipped away. The recruitment of many of its top performers to newly formed varsity programs across the country made it hard to keep the group together. With Simmons having proved his mettle as a coach with the Michigammes, he was selected as the first women's track and field coach at U-M in 1976.
The Wolverines gained varsity status in 1978. In his four years as coach (1978-81), the Wolverines gradually improved, finishing fourth at the unofficial Big Ten Conference outdoor meet in 1981. He coached the program's first All-America selection (AIAW), Penny Neer, before retiring from coaching in 1981.
Simmons attended sporting events on both the EMU and U-M campuses. He was inducted into the Eastern Michigan Hall of Fame in 1978, became U-M's first honorary 'M' man in 1990 and was the inaugural inductee into the Michigan Women's Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1994. The Wolverines have hosted the "Red Simmons Invitational" every year since 1981 in his honor.
Simmons won four Senior Olympics gold medals in 1995 at the age of 85. Simmons and his second wife, Lois, continued to support Michigan Athletics with their time and generosity, funding several scholarships and awards.
Following are comments from U-M Athletic Department personnel:
Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon
Red Simmons was a fixture at many sporting events and was always supportive of the department and our coaches. He lived a long, productive life and made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of others. Red will be missed by our athletic department, but his legacy will endure as an accomplished coach, a wonderful person and a great Michigan Man.
Michigan Women's Track & Field Head Coach James Henry
As I approach the middle of my 28th year as a head coach and prepare to have my 25th wedding anniversary celebration in a week, this has hit me like a ton of bricks. The person who has made me who I am today has just passed on. I feel heartbroken. I feel a little dazed and confused because I would not be the person I am today if it wasn't for Red putting me in the position to have the type of life I'm leading now. I'm doing what I love to do and that's coach and help kids and Red is responsible for that.
He built a legacy of integrity, hard work and honesty. He has made my job easy because I live by his example as an individual and as a coach.
Media Contact: David Ablauf, Whitney Dixon (734) 763-4423