When discussing the history of sports in Durham, basketball often dominates the conversation. As the home to the winningest basketball coach in Division I history, the first African American coach in any professional sport and the first interracial game ever played in the South, it’s easy to see why.
The city of Durham is celebrating its 150th year and Ashleigh Bachert, executive director of the Durham Sports Commission, or DSC, believes that now is an apt time to celebrate the achievements of the track and field community, as well.
The DSC is preparing to host the USA Track & Field National Youth Outdoor Championships on June 25-30 at Durham County Memorial Stadium and is discovering more about Durham’s track and field community along the way.
“Athletes traveling here to compete have much to experience and learn about Durham while they’re visiting,” Bachert says. “We’ve already planned to hold championships’ opening ceremonies at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and we’ve started thinking about how we can incorporate the history of track and field into the experience.”
Durham 150 and the USATF Youth Championships are a great opportunity to illuminate the accomplishments of Dr. LeRoy T. Walker and Coach Al Buehler for visiting USATF athletes and the Durham community.
Dr. LeRoy T. Walker
Throughout a pioneering career that began in 1945 at North Carolina College, now known as North Carolina Central University, Walker coached 111 All-Americans, 40 national champions and 12 Olympians.
After serving as the university’s track and field coach and chancellor, Dr. Walker left NCCU to become treasurer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He be- came the first African American president of the USOC and coached athletes at every Olympic Games from 1956 to 1976. He was also the first black Olympic head coach when he led the track and field team at the 1976 Montreal games.
Walker played a central role in bringing the 1996 Olympic Games to his hometown of Atlanta. He insisted the Olympic torch be carried through Durham on its way to Atlanta. When it got to NCCU, he carried it himself and lit a gold cauldron in front of 500 cheering spectators at the gymnasium and recreation complex that today bears his name.
Coach Al Buehler
Following a stellar undergraduate track career at the University of Maryland, Buehler joined the Duke University Blue Devils in 1955 as head cross country coach — a job he would hold for more than 45 years.
During his tenure at Duke, Buehler coached 10 All-Americans, seven Penn Relay champions, six ACC championship cross country teams and five Olympians.