- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Red Simmons, the founder of the Michigan women’s track and field program and a staple around the school’s athletic program, died Friday at age 102.
Simmons started at Michigan in 1959 as a physical education teacher following his retirement from the Detroit Police Department. At the beginning of his tenure, he began the Ann Arbor Women’s Track Club, called "The Michigammes."
It was a program that sent three women to the Olympics -- Francie Kraker Goodridge in 1968 and 1972 in track, Sperry Jones in 1968 as a kayaker and Micki King as a diver in 1972, when she won a gold medal.
After the passage of Title IX, Simmons became the women’s track coach for the first four years of the varsity program before retiring in 1981.
Born Kenneth Simmons on Jan. 5, 1910, he lived through two World Wars, the stock market crash of 1929 -- which incidentally kept him from running track at Michigan -- and then through the entire baby boomer generation. He reportedly ran against Jesse Owens, met former Michigan coach Fielding Yost and has a track invitational held yearly at Michigan in his name.
Simmons stayed active in the Michigan community up until his death. He was a frequent fixture at Michigan basketball games, often sitting courtside in Crisler Arena.
"Red Simmons was a fixture at many sporting events and was always supportive of the department and our coaches," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said in a statement Friday night. "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."
Simmons, who ran at what was then Michigan Normal College -- now Eastern Michigan University -- was inducted into the Eastern Michigan Hall of Fame in 1978 and was named an honorary ‘M’ man at Michigan in 1990, the first person to have that honor bestowed on him.
He was the first inductee into the Michigan women’s track and field hall of fame in 1994 after starting the program.
"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," Michigan women's track coach James Henry said in a statement. "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."
Brandon confirmed Simmons’ death in a tweet late Friday evening.