Sept. 25, 2015
Francie Kraker Goodridge
Francie Kraker Goodridge is a familiar name to not just fans and historians of Michigan women's track and field, but of American track and field as a whole. Goodridge has been a staple in the U-M Athletics family for more than 50 years -- first as a student, next as a competitor, then as a coach and finally as a University admissions counselor. Needless to say, she brings a unique perspective to the history of Michigan Athletics, and she occupies a special place within it. Goodridge was not just U-M's first female coach or the first female athlete to train in previously male-only facilities, but the first-ever native woman Michigander to represent the United States at the Olympic level.
When Francie was a student at U-M, women's varsity sports were nonexistent. Yet she still achieved at the highest competition in the world, training with legendary U-M head coach Red Simmons in her pursuit of two Olympic bids (1968; 1972). After her own career, she coached the Wolverine cross country team to its first-ever regional championship and top-10 finish in program history in 1982, and then the track and field program to its first-ever Big Ten championship in 1983.
She has been honored for her historic career in a number of capacities, including induction into the Michigan Hall of Honor, the State of Michigan Women's Historical Hall of Fame and the U-M Women's Track and Field Hall of Fame, among other accomplishments. Now, Francie sits down with MGoBlue.com to reflect on all the history she has seen in her time with Michigan, a fitting way to celebrate her role in the long history of Michigan Athletics.
Q. You were able to experience Michigan Athletics in several roles, including as an athlete and as a coach. You are also an Ann Arbor native. Which high school did you attend and how did your running career begin?
A. I went to Ann Arbor High School, which was the only high school in town at that time. Before that, I went to Slauson Junior High, which is where my running career started. I was actually not a student-athlete at U-M because we didn't have any women's athletics at the time, so I was part of Coach Simmons' club running group called The Michigammes. I think he named it that because there was a fishing spot in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) called Michigamme where he went fishing.
Q. Growing up as an Ann Arbor native, at what age was the U-M tradition ingrained into you and did you ever see yourself being involved with the University for such a large period of your life?
A. No, I did not, although I felt I grew up with Michigan from the time I was born. My parents bought a house on Ann Street, which is now mostly student housing, but it's in the historic district. They bought that house when I was due to be born, so I grew up there. At the time, the band was still using the old band building on the corner of Huron and State Street, so the band would march down our street in their wool uniforms. I grew up with the band in particular, and of course with my parents going to the games and my dad listening to the games with me, I have been around that sort of thing my whole life. Not a lot of people get to grow up with that in their neighborhood, being so immersed in the tradition. I always kind of thought I would go to the University as a student, but athletics was very far from my mind when I grew up.
Q. You led the women's team to its first-ever Big Ten championship in the 1982 indoor season. What do you remember about that year and leading such a young program to the conference title?
A. We were actually thrilled -- I would even say we were unprepared for how well we really did until the year started to unfold. We had some new recruits who really impacted our team immediately and started scoring high in the Big Ten Championships, so we added to the team that I inherited with some major recruits and a lot of development. They were just amazing! We only had 18 women travel to Big Tens and I think all of them scored and nobody was sick or injured. That was a huge thing for us.
Q. It really is incredible how much progress the women in sports movement has come from when you were growing up. Do you remember any experiences from when you were young that would highlight how different it is then versus now?
A. Oh, yes. I started running in 1961 having been 'discovered' by Red Simmons, who became my coach, and his wife, who was my physical education teacher. She noticed that I could run and they made up their minds to nurture a female athlete and get her to the Olympic Games. They had gone to Rome and seen that the one 800-meter runner, which was the longest distance at the time for women, did not do well. They said 'We can find a girl and we can coach her.' So that's how I got started.
I started running in 1961 and my coach was a beloved figure on campus, and everyone in town really, really liked him. He asked if I could train at Yost Field House, which at the time was the all-purpose building used by the track team, the baseball and basketball teams, and the locker room for the football team was in there. There I was in this total circus as a 14-year-old girl running around a track and so I only did that for about a year. It was really pretty hard to do and (then-athletic director) Don Canham really didn't like me being there as the only female in sight. I think he kind of saw the writing on the wall and didn't want to see that there would be women's sports someday. I was kicked out of Yost Field House and continued my training in what was then a 19th-century gymnasium called Waterman Gymnasium. It had a banked 10-lap track for the mile, but that's where I did all my training and probably what led to my knee replacement a couple years ago. It was banked heavily, but I loved it. I loved training on that track and it prepared me for the indoor circuit which had those types of tracks so it was really a cool experience.
Q. You mentioned that for coach Simmons and his wife had a goal to get somebody to the Olympics. Was that ever your goal, or at what point did that become a realistic expectation for you?
A. It was my goal from day one. I was too young and immature to be intimidated too much by it because it was the only game I knew. I saw the Olympics on TV in 1960 when Wilma Rudolph stunned the world and won her gold medals, becoming very famous. That was really the first I'd seen of the Olympics or the first time the U.S. media got excited about women in the Olympics.
That was all I knew and we didn't have the structured athletic opportunities that exist now; we didn't have meets, we didn't have teams, we didn't have anything. There were a few coaches like mine around the country who started clubs and that's what we had. There were some Police Athletic League Clubs in the big cities that we competed against, but I was the first member of the team, the only member of the team for a couple of years and they just trained me. My only choice was to go to the national championships from training because there were very few meets to go to before you had to go to "big time," so to speak. It was very interesting.
Q. You competed in Mexico City (1968) and Munich (1972). There was a lot of tension surrounding Munich during the second Olympics you went to. What do you remember about the Olympic village and the maybe the temperament of the athletes at the time? How were you able to block it out and focus on competing?
A. It was exciting; it was colorful and simply wonderful. The Germans had reappeared on the world stage -- this was West Germany at the time of course in Munich -- and this was their showcase after World War II. The Germans were excited and everybody else was excited, but it did start out -- as it often did -- with a manufactured crisis. The media got word of a potential South African boycott. It's history now of course, but there was a lot of talk about a boycott at the time, so when we got to the village and the media would interview us, all they would ask us about would be 'Is there going to be a boycott?'. They didn't ask about what we were competing in or what we were going to do. The irony is, when that horrible tragedy occurred, they didn't even have to manufacture one, so that when the Israelis were massacred with the attack occurring on the Olympic Village, the whole thing changed. We were so focused as athletes, we didn't know if the Olympics would go on. I had to delay one day between my preliminary and my semifinals round and I don't know what was going to happen. You just sort of lived with it, and we blocked it out and went on and competed really well after that.
Q. You have held several titles including American and World records (both in 800-meters), Big Ten champion as a coach, etc. When did you realize that you were the first-ever female Michigan Native athlete to represent the U.S. in the Olympics and where does that title rank among your other accomplishments?
A. Well, my coach figured that out because he always knew those things. He looked into it, and even though there were a number of Olympians in various sports, I was the first real 'native' Michigander. He figured that out from looking at all the results over the years. It was pretty neat to be the first and I had a lot of those 'firsts' throughout my career. I was the first in terms of even trying to train at the University, and the first Big Ten Championship track team and the first woman coach for Track and Field; a lot of things.
I left coaching at U-M because my husband got a job at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and I regretfully had to give up my job at Michigan to go down there. We spent 15 years there and came back and in 1999; our son had just started college and we really missed Michigan so we came back. I had admissions experience -- years ago, I was the admissions director at the Greenhill School which is a private school in Ann Arbor -- and I liked admissions so I felt really fortunate to come back to the University in the capacity of the admissions person. That period of time was a lot of fun.
Left: Francie Kraker Goodridge's official Olympic card for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany
Right: Francie and her husband, John, spending some quality time together
Q. What was the draw for you and your husband John (cross country and track & field head coach at Eastern Michigan University) to come back?
A. My husband is a New Yorker, but of course a lot of New Yorkers come to Michigan to go to school. He loved Ann Arbor and loved the University. He finished a master's degree when he came back with me in the early 70s after the Olympics and so he fell in love with the town. That was the allure for us. We just wanted to live here and with our son coming back to school it all fell into place that this was the best place for us to live. Hopefully we will always be here.
Q. What would you say to today's female student athletes about the appreciation they should have for the struggle to bring women's athletics to its current state?
A. One of the things that happens in situations like this is complacency, I suppose, and not knowing the history of how difficult the battle was and how long it took for women to have the athletic opportunities. It can be frustrating at times and sometimes it was as a coach, to see all of that taken for granted or to see people not put in 100 percent.
The women that came in my era, the first women who competed nationally and internationally, we were all just huge competitors. Competition for us was our meat and potatoes. We just absolutely loved it, and that's what we wanted to do was compete. In teaching young women now, there are so many mixed messages in this culture about women being assertive and competitive and even aggressive. It's all taken so negatively at times, so I'd say to just keep going girls, keep competing and love it. Do it for the value that it has. The training and competition are part of an experience all young women should really have an opportunity to see for themselves.
Q. What are some of the lessons and learning experiences that you've taken from your time at Michigan and how did you carry them with you at your other coaching stops of Wake Forest and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee?
A. I absolutely tried to bring some of the Michigan culture with me. It was interesting journey because Michigan is the best and Michigan always has the reputation of being the best. I kind of did take it a little humbly by telling my athletes 'You have to earn being the best every year. You have to win and you have to prove yourself every year' and that's what it's about. Because of the wonderful tradition and history at Michigan, I was so lucky to be surrounded by it, and I was able to take it to a place like Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which was a struggling program.
My husband was the men's coach and I was the women's coach and the women's athletic director, and we had to really push that same set of values on the people there to try to get the kind of excellence. It was an interesting situation to go over to our rivals at Wisconsin-Madison, which is a Big Ten school, and start beating people. They became our good friends and respected what we did because we brought that set of values from Michigan and they recognized that. When I was coaching Michigan (in 1982) and we beat Wisconsin, which had something like a six or seven-year winning streak in the Big Ten, they were wonderful. Their coach told me they said 'We hoped that if we got beaten it was going to be Michigan.' That meant a lot to us.
A. I have been tremendously proud of what they've done. James was my assistant coach when I was the head coach, and I really really wanted him to have that opportunity to be a head coach. He's a person of great integrity and talent and he was very young but I thought this was the way to go -- with a Michigan person -- and he had been a fine Michigan athlete and so I was thrilled to see what he's been able to do, winning Big Ten championship after Big Ten championship. When Mike McGuire came in place, you know he's been there for a long time too, things really fell into place. His teams have always been nationally ranked and it has been a wonderful thing to see, and I am sure they will continue that success.
Q. Michigan track and field is on the verge of a brand new facility and the programs are in a great place with excellent coaching staffs. Did you ever foresee the sport, and this program, becoming so big and reaching the level it has today?
A. I truly didn't, because it wasn't so huge anywhere in the country. All the money that came into college sports, you know, was through TV coverage and all of that. But there has been so much support into the program that I couldn't even imagine when I was running around the all-purpose Yost Field House. That was a wonderful experience in and of itself, but I never would have guessed the facilities would become this mind-boggling and it's wonderful. I wouldn't have ever guessed it would reach this level, knowing the humble beginnings we came from.
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