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Phil Anastasia: Walker's legacy lingers at Penn Relays

Phil Anastasia, Inquirer Columnist

Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012, 1:24 AM

Dr. LeRoy Walker, 93, a fixture at the Penn Relays, died on Monday. (AP file photo)

Shadows always are dancing on the old brick walls of Franklin Field during the Penn Relays.

From left, Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Aleen Bailey and Carmelita Jeter of the USA Red team celebrate their win in the women's 4x100-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Shericka Ward, center, of Villanova, pulls up during the college women's 100-meter hurdles championship. She did not finish the race. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Auburn's Keenan Brock, left, edges out Illinois' Stanley Azie, center, and LSU's Shermund Alsop in the college men's 4x100-meter championship of America. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Mike Rodgers of the USA Red team waits for the start of the race in the men's 4x100-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Walter Dix, center, of the USA Red team heads to the finish line ahead of his competitors in the men's 4x100-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Walter Dix, right, of the USA Red team, anchored his team to victory with a time of 38.40. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Walter Dix, right, of the USA Red team crosses the finish line. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Joel Mejia of the Dominican team falls on the track after handing the baton to a teammate in the men's 4x400-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
From left, Charles Brewer of Pennsauken, Brandon Rapp of Cherokee, Brian White of Eastern Regional and Brad Krell of Cherry Hill East fight for positioning at the start of the high school boys' 4x400-meter relay for South Jersey large schools. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
The high school boys' 4x400-meter South Jersey small schools relay didn't have a clear favorite early on. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Alex Reber of Cherry Hill East takes off on the anchor leg of the high school boys' 4x400-meter South Jersey large school relay. Cherry Hill East won the race. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Oregon's Anne Kesselring, center, gets mobbed by her teammates after they won the college women's 4x800-meter championship of America. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Despite having to come from behind, LaShawn Merritt of USA Red eases up as he crosses the finish line in the men's 4x400-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
LaShawn Merritt of USA Red acknowledges the crowd after his team won in the men's 4x400-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
From left, Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Aleen Bailey and Carmelita Jeter of the USA Red team celebrate their win in the women's 4x100-meter USA vs. the World relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Andrew Riley of Illinois starts the college men's 4x100-meter championship of America. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
The Oregon women's relay team celebrates its victory in the college women's 4x1500-meter championship. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Oregon relay team members, including anchor Rebecca Friday, second from left, celebrate after their victory in the college women's 4x1500-meter. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Oregon relay team members hug anchor Rebecca Friday, second from left, after their victory. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Oregon relay team members hold up the Penn Relays medallion after their victory. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Bill Collins, 61, of the Houston Elite track club crosses the finish line way ahead of the competition in the masters mixed 4x100-meter relay for age 60 and over. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Bill Collins, 61, of the Houston Elite track club crosses the finish line way ahead of the competition in the masters mixed 4x100-meter relay for age 60 and over. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Braheme Days Jr. of Bridgeton competes in the high school boys' shot put championship. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Braheme Days Jr. of Bridgeton won the high school boys' shot put championships with a throw of 20.94 meters. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Drew Viscidy, left, of Cherokee, reacts as his 4x800-meter relay team finished second to Chariho, right, in the high school boys' 4x800 for large schools. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Colin Merrigan, center, of Cherokee, runs the first leg in the high school boys' 4x800-meter relay for large schools. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Cherokee's Shawn Wilson, center, gets the handoff from Colin Merrigan, right, to start the second leg of the 4x800-meter relay. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Cherokee's Drew Viscidy reacts after his 4x800m relay team fell to Chariho. Cherokee led most of the race. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Ashley Collier, center, of Texas A&M edges out the competition as her team won the college women's 4x100-meter relay championship. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Dominique Duncan, third from left, lets out a yell, as the Texas A&M team celebrates its victory in the college women's 4x100-meter relay championship. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Ashley Collier of Texas A&M coasts after her team won the college women's 4x100-meter relay championship. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Ashley Collier, right, gets a hug from teammate Lakeida Stewart, left, after Texas A&M won the college women's 4x100-meter relay championship. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
The anchor legs for South Carolina, left, and Auburn, right, battle it out in a college men's 4x100-meter relay heat won by Auburn. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Wellington Zaza, left, of Strath Haven hands off the baton to teammate Chris Williams as they compete in the high school boys' 4x100-meter for small schools. They won their heat. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Athletes sleep on the upper level of Franklin Field. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Winslow's Stey'ce McNeil bolts out of the starting block during the high school girls' 400 hurdles. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Winslow's Stey'ce McNeil, left, leaps over the last hurdle during the high school girls' 400 hurdles. McNeil won her heat. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Winslow's Stey'ce McNeil, left, nears the finish line during the high school girls' 400 hurdles race. McNeil won her heat. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
An unidentified runner from Metuchen High School falls during the high school girls' 4x800 event. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Track officials separate runners in the paddock before their heat in the High School Girls 4x800 event. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Cherry Hill East's Cree McGee (front, from left), Brandi Creagh, and Lauren Miller cheer on their teammates in the high school girls' 4x800 race. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Runners wait outside Franklin Field before their events during the 118th running of the Penn Relays. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Students rest on the bleachers on the upper level of Franklin Field during the 118th running of the Penn Relays. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
1968 Olympic medal winner John Carlos talks while signing copies of his book during the 118th running of the Penn Relays. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Students from Connetquot High School watch their teammates compete in one of the 4x400 high school girls' heats. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Students stretch in the bleachers during the 118th running of the Penn Relays. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
High school runners prepare in the paddock before the 4x400 heats. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
West Deptford's Megan Kirschling attempts 1.73 meters during the high school girls' high jump competition. Kirschling didn't clear the height. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Germantown Academy's Megan McCloskey competes in the high school girls' high jump championship. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Titiana Wolfe, of Alpha Academy in Jamaica, disappears in the long jump pit during one of her jumps in the high school girls' event. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Fans cheer on a runner from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the high school girls' 4x400 race. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College flies throught the air during the long jump portion of the College Women's Heptathlon. Emma won the heptathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College flies throught the air during the long jump portion of the College Women's Heptathlon. Emma won the heptathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Lindsey Walsh of Monmouth lets out a yell during the long jump portion of the College Women's Heptathlon. Lindsey finsihed third in the heptathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart, left, of Ithaca College runs in the 800m portion of the College Women's Heptathlon. Emma won the 800m and the heptathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart, right, of Ithaca College is congratulated by Ramatulai Bah, left, of City College of New York, after the final event, the 800m, of the College Women's Heptathlon. Emma won the heptathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart, right, of Ithaca College is congratulated by Ramatulai Bah, left, of City College of New York, after the final event, the 800m, of the College Women's Heptathlon. Emma won the heptathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport won the College Men's Decathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He is shown competing in the javelin where his throw of 55.32m was the best among the competitors. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh of Penn State started the 2nd day narrowly trailing Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon at the Penn Relays. Anya had a sub par day. He is shown competing in the javelin. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
James Bell of Lynchburg College won the pole vault portion of the College Men's Decathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He finished second overall. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh of Penn State started the 2nd day narrowly trailing Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon at the Penn Relays. Anya had a sub par day including not successfully completing any of his pole vault. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh of Penn State started the 2nd day narrowly trailing Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon at the Penn Relays. Anya had a sub par day including not successfully completing any pole vaults. He lies on the mat in frustration after missing a vault. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport won the College Men's Decathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He is shown competing in the pole vault. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport won the College Men's Decathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays, but fails on this attempt in the pole vault. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport won the College Men's Decathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He takes an early lead in the 1500m but finished second in that portion of the event to James Bell of Lynchburg. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
James Bell of Lynchburg College lies on the track after finishing the last of the 10 events, the 1500m, in the College Men's Decathlon on April 25, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He won the 1500m and finsihed second overall. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College is in the lead after the first day of competition in the College Women's Heptathlon on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. Emma competes in the high jump portion. Emma and Lindsay Walsh of Monmouth tied in this event. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College is in the lead after the first day of competition in the College Women's Heptathlon on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. Emma competes in the high jump portion. Emma and Lindsay Walsh of Monmouth tied in this event. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College is in the lead after the first day of competition in the College Women's Heptathlon at the Penn Relays. Emma reacts after narrowly missing he final jump in the high jump portion. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College is in the lead after the first day of competition in the College Women's Heptathlon at the Penn Relays. Emma crosses the finish line to win the 200m portion of the event. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Emma Dewart of Ithaca College is in the lead after the first day of competition in the College Women's Heptathlon at the Penn Relays. Emma crosses the finish line to win the 200m portion of the competition. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh of Penn State narrowly trails Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. Anya competes in the long jump. Anya came in second last year in the event at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
James Bell of Lynchburg competes in the long jump in the College Men's Decathlon on the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport has a narrow lead in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He is shown competing in the high jump. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh of Penn State narrowly trails Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. Anya competes in the high jump where he tied with Roethel. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel, center, of Christopher Newport has a narrow lead in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. He is shown in the 400m. James Bell of Lynchburg is left, and Anya Uzoh of Penn State is right. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh of Penn State narrowly trails Richard Roethel of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. Anya competes in the 400m which he won. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Anya Uzoh, right, of Penn State narrowly trails Richard Roethel, left, of Christopher Newport in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays, but defeats him in the 400m (shown here). (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Richard Roethel, left, of Christopher Newport and James Bell, right, of Lynchburg are exhausted after running the 400m, the final of the 5 events on the first day of competition in the decathlon. Roethel has a narrow lead in the College Men's Decathlon after the first day on April 24, 2012 at the Penn Relays. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Photo Gallery: The 118th Penn Relays

If you look closely enough, you can see the reflection of Jesse Owens' 220-yard leg for Ohio State in the sprint medley in 1936, and Larry James' anchor leg in the mile relay for Villanova in 1968, and Usain Bolt's half-human/half-hovercraft performance for Jamaica's 4x100 relay on that sunny Saturday afternoon in 2010.

But there isn't a wall wide enough to contain the legacy of Dr. LeRoy Walker.

"You talk about people of the universe - that was him," said Penn Relays referee Herman Frazier, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist. "He meant so much to so many people."

Athlete and coach, ambassador and administrator, mentor and inspiration, Dr. Walker was a towering figure in the sport of track and field. He died Monday at 93.

Dr. Walker's career spanned decades and his influence spanned the globe, but he always seemed at home amid the color, competition, and camaraderie at the Penn Relays. He attended the event for nearly 60 years, both as a coach of watch-winning teams from North Carolina Central University and as a carnival referee from 1967 until 2010.

"He was revered," said Dave Johnson, Penn Relays director.

Frazier, a longtime college administrator who now is a deputy athletic director at Syracuse, said he first attended the Penn Relays as a Germantown High School athlete in 1972. That's the year that Dr. Walker's North Carolina Central team, led by Larry Black, won the mile relay, the 4x220, and the sprint medley.

"I'll never forget the [mile relay] time, 3:03.1," Frazier said. "I was so struck by that time. When I came here with Arizona State in 1977, we ran 3:01 and broke that record.

"I used to write him letters, just about training and things like that. He meant so much to me."

The grandson of slaves, Dr. Walker was the youngest of 13 children and the first in his family to attend college. He earned 11 varsity letters at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and still graduated magna cum laude.

He became the first African American to earn a doctorate in biomechanics. He coached North Carolina Central from 1945 through 1983 - guiding athletes who won 11 Olympic medals and appeared in every Olympic Games from 1956 to 1976 - and was so highly regarded by the institution's academic community that he became the school's chancellor.

"That doesn't happen," Johnson said. "It shows the esteem in which he was held."

In some ways, Dr. Walker was of another time. He came of age during a period of Jim Crow laws, but earned 15 honorary degrees and was the first African American to become president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

He was a legendary track and field coach during a simpler stage in his sport, before steroid suspicions and the mixed blessing of professionalism.

Dr. Walker brought track and field to the world. He was a coach or consultant to Olympics teams from Israel, Ethiopia, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Kenya. He conducted clinics in China, Syria, Lebanon, and Haiti.

Dr. Walker was the first African American to serve as coach of the U.S. men's track and field team. His squad at the 1976 Olympics won medals in 19 events, including six golds.

"He was such a smart son of a gun," said Frazier, who won one of those gold medals as a member of the 4x400 relay. "But he was so humble. He would speak to anybody and everybody."

As the world's largest and oldest track and field carnival kicked into gear on a cool and cloudy Thursday, Dr. Walker's absence was another reminder of the steady march and transformative effect of time - baton to baton in the relays, year to year in the rich history of this event.

But some men stand too tall to pass fully from view.

"At this event and in this city, his legacy will always be with us," Frazier said.

Contact Phil Anastasia

at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com,

or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.

Phil Anastasia, Inquirer Columnist

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