Jack Griffin was a talented athlete in basketball, track, and swimming; a tireless worker in coaching youth track teams; a coach of the 1964, 1976, and 1984 Olympic teams; a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee; a coach at the World Games for the Deaf in 1965 and 1985; a coach of the AAU TAC, International Tours, Junior College, High School and of several local clubs.
Jack Griffin passed away May 29, 2017. Read more about Jack’s life and passion below.
Jack Griffin, Frederick County track and field royalty, dies at 89
About 15 years ago, Jack Griffin decided it was a good idea to catalog some of his track and field coaching accomplishments. So he grabbed some plain white paper and started jotting them in his distinctive handwriting — a mix of cursive and block letters — with the kind of trusty black Flair pen he used for nearly all of his correspondence. At the top, he wrote, “To the best of my knowledge, the following pages are accurate.”
He was getting older, and he wanted to put everything on the record before he started forgetting.
It was a tall task.
“You can’t remember everything he’s done,” said Becky Griffin, the youngest of Jack’s three children.
During an illustrious career that never really ended, Jack Griffin coached for the United States in three Summer Olympics (1964, 1976, 1984) and was the leader of several national teams. He coached Frederick’s only Olympian, along with two world record holders, eight USA international athletes and 12 national champions. His Frederick High School track and cross-country teams claimed 14 state titles.
Griffin, a gifted coach and selfless teacher who was track and field royalty in Frederick County, died Monday afternoon at Frederick Memorial Hospital. He was 89.
Griffin’s achievements came from a masterful ability to coax potential out of his athletes and motivate them with a demanding yet compassionate tact. The Frederick native put his hometown on the map in the world of track and field in the 1960s, and continued coaching that sport in some capacity until September 2016 — just two months before he went to Northampton Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation in Frederick.
After he had retired, he was still a fixture on the county track scene. If a big meet was happening, Griffin would be there even if he wasn’t coaching any kids, often donning an Olympic hat and sitting in a red lawn chair to comfort a pair of hips that had been replaced. The county indoor championship meet is named in his honor, as is the press box at Frederick High School’s stadium.
Over the course of a career in which he taught physical education for 30 years, Griffin, a 1953 graduate of New York University, juggled multiple jobs simultaneously. He worked for the City Recreation Department for 47 years. He founded or organized local programs and events for track and field (the Frederick Track Club), swimming (YMCA swim teams), volleyball (city recreation league), diving (Frederick Area Divers) and triathlon. Over the years, he coached at Frederick High and for his club team, the YMCA, Maryland School for the Deaf, Frederick Community College and Hood College.
Said his daughter, “He was everywhere,” carrying starting blocks in the trunk of his Cadillac and with a stopwatch in his possession. He was always ready to coach or share his knowledge.
Becky said her father received coaching offers from many colleges over the years, but he never wanted to leave Frederick. “He wanted to give back to the community,” she said.
“We’re proud of the man that he was,” she added. “He looked for the good in everyone and he brought out the best in everyone. He was a kind, sweet soul, and he was giving. He was just amazing.”
Thanks to Griffin’s reputation, prestigious events were awarded to Frederick, highlighted by the U.S. Women’s Olympics Track and Field Trials, which were held at Thomas Johnson High School in 1972. He also helped bring the National Women’s Track and Field Championships to Frederick in 1966. Others were the 1968 National Women’s Cross Country Meet and the 1970 International Women’s Cross Country meet.
“The biggest surprise to me was the many national and international events he brought to Frederick,” said Stan Goldberg, longtime sports editor at The Frederick News-Post. “I couldn’t imagine, Frederick was little, Frederick having such a major meet. It showed the importance and how much the track community trusted this man.”
Events like that are the bullet points on Griffin’s thick résumé. But his greatest impact was made in one-on-one connections with his track athletes — some of whom were world class.
Debbie Thompson Brown and Tammy Davis Thompson were Griffin’s biggest stars. Their three names will forever be linked in Frederick County lore.
Around 1960, the two girls were brought to Griffin’s attention after they ran some eye-popping 50-yard dash times in a junior high gym class fitness test. He tested them further by having them race a boy. The boy came in third.
Soon, Thompson Brown and Davis Thompson were on the track with Griffin’s club team, getting put through the wringer by a man who had them learning and trying every event in the sport.
“He was very hard, but he was teaching us from scratch,” Davis Thompson said. “And, of course, being very young, we just thought it was horrible. … At that time, we didn’t know, but he was trying to find out which events were best for each one of us.”
He put Thompson Brown in the sprints and Davis Thompson in the hurdles. They rapidly ascended under his guidance, traveling all over the country — and sometimes outside of it — to AAU meets that would help them advance and improve.
Brown made the 1964 Olympic team that competed in Tokyo. She ran in the 200 meters. Griffin was one of the U.S. team’s coaches.
Thompson, an alternate on that team in the 800-meter hurdles, set indoor world records for the 50-yard hurdles and the indoor 70-yard hurdles, both when she was only 15 years old.
She seemed poised to make the U.S. team for the 1964 Olympics, but she hit the second-to-last hurdle