Pennsylvania Track And Field Legend Tim Hickey Passes Away

* Legendary coach Tim Hickey - Photo Credit: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer

By Oliver Hinson - MileSplit Contributor

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Without the contributions of Tim Hickey, girls track and field in Pennsylvania would look nothing like it does today. 

The legendary coach for the Philadelphia William Penn High School girls track and field team died this week, leaving behind a legacy that won't be soon forgotten.

From 1973-2003, Hickey led his team to 23 of 30 possible Philadelphia Public League championships and at least one event final at the Penn Relays for 20 consecutive years, including three gold medals.

He also founded the Delaware Valley Girls Track Coaches Association, an organization that hosts meets and supports female athletes in the greater Philadelphia region. He was inducted into the Armory Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016, as well as the National High School Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2021.

Hickey grew up in rural Indiana, where he participated in the track programs at Parker High School and Ball State University. After college, he started a three-year stint in the Peace Corps in southern Africa, where he also coached the Tanzanian women's national track team. He discusses that stint with the Tanzania National Team in a compelling 1976 article by the New York Times.

Upon his return to the states, he realized that women's track in America, especially in middle and high school, was not in a good place. He was determined to change that.

At his first position as a math teacher at Vaux Middle School, he found talent in future star Pat Helms. In middle school, Helms competed for the US women's junior national team, but not for her own school - Vaux didn't have one. At the time, women's scholastic athletic opportunities were limited - and Hickey said that there was "no such thing" as girls' track in the area. When he tried to form a team, he was denied by the administration.

No matter, though. Hickey was determined to give his athletes an opportunity, so he formed Klub Keystone, a track club that competed at meets nationwide.

In 1972, Hickey made the move to William Penn, an all-girls school, and began his illustrious high school coaching career. In 1979, the same year he founded the DVGTCA, his girls' 4x800 meter relay team broke the national scholastic record at the Penn Relays with a blazing time of 8:59.7, beating rival Brooklyn Tech in the process. Three years later, William Penn started a 20-year regular season unbeaten streak.

Above: The William Penn Girls Team under Coach Hickey (Year Unknown)

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Over the course of three decades, Hickey coached many of the state's most talented athletes, 13 of which won five or more Public League relay championships. One of his best was Angel Patterson, who won 10 different individual events at championship meets over the course of her career, the most of any William Penn athlete during Hickey's tenure. Patterson was named to the Penn Relays Wall of Fame in 2018.

In addition to individual successes, Hickey's teams set records in the shuttle hurdle relay, the sprint medley relay, the 880 yard medley, and the 4x200 meter relay to go along with the 4x800 mark.

What's more remembered about his tenure, though, is his dedication to his athletes. At William Penn, a small neighborhood school with little athletic facilities to speak of, Hickey had to get creative with his workouts. His "track" consisted of a 200 meter sidewalk that he frequently used. If he wanted something longer, he used the surrounding streets. Per an article by journalist Ted Silary, who maintains a page commemorating Hickey:

"Say you're Hickey, and you want the young ladies to simulate a 400-meter run - You make them start on the 13th Street sidewalk... run up to Master Street, make a left... continue for about 30 yards, make another left at the gate - hopefully, it's open - and head down the 200-meter straightaway...

A half-mile? Up 13th, over Master, down Broad, across Girard Avenue. Crave a distance workout? Run to City Hall and back."

In fact, Hickey often had to use the same creativity to take his teams to meets. One of the major obstacles he faced throughout his career was an unsupportive administration; for over a decade, the William Penn principal would not let the track team leave school grounds for anything, meaning the team would have to "[sneak] out and [climb] over the fence to go to the Penn Relays," according to Hickey.

After three decades of success at William Penn, Hickey left the school in 2003, moving on to short stints at West Catholic and Swenson. In 2013, his Swenson girls' 4x400 meter relay team came close to breaking the Philadelphia area meet record at the Penn Relays, a record set, of course, by Hickey and his former athletes.

Soon after, he retired from coaching, but he continued to volunteer as the High School Coordinator for the Penn Relays, affirming his lifelong commitment to the sport he loved.

According to Jerome Lowery of the DVGTCA, Hickey is perhaps best remembered by one of his favorite sayings: "As long as it benefits the kids, it's alright with me."

Reference Links:

TedSilary - Tim Hickey Tribute

Philadelphia Chalkbeat - Remembering Greatness

Tim Hickey inducted Into Armory Coaches HoF - Jack Pfeifer