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Card discusses the legendary Tigerbelles

By Audrey Anderson 

Hometown Weekly Reporter

Aime Alley Card, a nonfiction editor for Pangyrus literary magazine and a board member for the Women’s National Book Association, Boston Chapter, recently spoke at the Walpole Public Library about her newly released book “The Tigerbelles: Olympic Legends from Tennessee State.” 

Card has a close relationship to the legendary track team. Her grandfather coached the track team at nearby Vanderbilt University, and he offered his facilities to the Tigerbelles for a practice field, since their own college, the historically black, public college, Tennessee State, had a practice field that was in poor shape. Card researched old interviews and records about the team and also interviewed surviving members of the team. Her book tells the story of the formation of the powerful track team and the fabulous success of several members in Olympic competition.

To begin, Card showed a video of an interview with Coach Ed Temple. Temple had graduated from Tennessee State, and was applying for jobs, when he was offered the position of the Head Coach of Women’s Track and Field. He described how he put his team together by traveling to prospective team members’ homes to meet their parents, tell them about his plans for the team, and explain how their daughters could be a part of it. He held practices in all types of weather, emphasizing to the team members that they had to be prepared for any conditions in competition. He emphasized to the team that they were not ready to graduate until their younger team members started to outperform them due to their successful mentoring. Each class thereby contributed to the future success of the team. 

The team was close, and they were treated as family members of Ed Temple and his wife. They enjoyed many barbecues together and could always get friendly advice.

During Temple’s tenure of forty-four years as Head Coach at Tennessee State, the Tigerbelles won thirty-four national titles, and 8 team members were inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Forty members of Temple’s teams competed in the Olympics and won 23 medals (16 gold, 6 silver, and 4 bronze).

The Tigerbelles had to endure the difficulties of living and traveling in the Jim Crow south. They couldn’t be sure they would be able to find or afford lodging or food. They travelled by station wagon and brought sandwiches on their trips. The team members made sure to dress well to contribute to the team’s reputation while on the road.

As women, team members were discriminated against. Society had not fully accepted women participating in athletic competition, and it did not celebrate their success as publicly as it did for men’s teams.

In her new book, Card amplifies the remarkable success and work ethic of the Tigerbelles. The story of their accomplishments should be known and shared by all interested in sports, society, and womens’ place in it.

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