This post will be a little bit different from our “alumni watches” but it’s a story worthy of being one of Disney inspirational movies that can be watched on the big screen. It’s odd how things happen to kinda fall into place sometime. I had just wrapped up a 13+ hour day working a softball tournament and had gotten on campus the next day and I was checking twitter, which I don’t normally do in the mornings, before I started my day. Our athletic office tagged Trimble Tech in a story of the Smith Twins in a story from Texas A&M and I will leave that link here so everybody can check that out.
In that story it said the twins, Ellen and Evelyn, started the girls track program because they simply loved to run and compete. There wasn’t a team around until they found a teacher and asked her to simply stand and they would do the rest. That is close to Disney enough but the fairy tale ending, that track program made up of friends rattled off four consecutive Class 4A state championships from 1976-1979, including the twin’s final three high school years! The post above speaks of their college accolades, I wanted to know more about their year leading up to Tech and those four years getting the girls track program off the ground. I reached out to Dr. Langston, knowing she was a proud A&M Alumni, if she could track them down through the alumni association as I had failed to find them through social media. As the fairy tale goes, Ellen and Evelyn were coming into town during spring break and would like to meet so I could share their Trimble Tech story, the early years of the Twin Trailblazers. I sent them the questions and we ended up meeting up at Tech talking and walking them around. So you will see their replies and in some places my fill in to follow up questions I had for them. In looking into this story I found out Trimble Tech’s Track Team is/was/still is a power to be reckoned with and I will be diving further into it in the future as our own Coach Donna (Thomas) Wilson is a story in herself. Coach Brookins also an All American has a teammate from his Tech days who was an Olympian so be watching for those stories.
Evelyn (in A&M Maroon) and Ellen (black jacket) in the auditorium recalling the Alma Mater!
Reading the story I couldn’t help but remember the days I would share with my Grandpa Eichler in Louisiana fishing with cane poles, looking forward to those visits and those cherished memories.
Have to ask, when you raced your dad in the car back in those days, did any of your other eight brothers and sisters race as well or was just the two of you?
“It was only the two of us.”
Who had the upper hand in the years before middle school/high school races with your father, Ellen or Evelyn?
“Hmmm we never thought about it. We just wanted to show our daddy we were faster than his ’63.”
In reading the article, it says y’all started the girls track program here at Trimble Tech, was there middle school sports back then? Or were your afternoons/weekends still filled with fishing trips?
“We attended Stripling Middle School. Although we don’t recall any organized track teams, we remember that in PE, we ran a lot! A whole lot! We loved school but the highlight of our day was running & beating the other kids; especially the boys. In the evenings and on weekends, in addition to fishing trips, we also recall racing/beating the other kids in the neighborhood. When the boys let us play, they would always pick us first when it came to picking their football and baseball teams.”
Your father told y’all, “You can run. You’re fast. Go for it.” Do you know how old you were when he first told you that?
“We recall ‘beating daddy’s ‘63’ from as young as elementary school. We believe it was around 3rd or 4th grade (ages 8 or 9).”
How did that carry over into not only creating but dominating with a track team as we like to say now ‘pulled from the hallway’?
“Our desire was to run! We knew that we were fast because we could beat our dad’s car (lol) and we enjoyed outrunning all of the kids in school & in the neighborhood. Also, we recall a middle school teacher telling us we could go to college by running. We received confirmation of this fact during our Sophomore year at Tech. One day, out of the blue Mrs. Medlen told us the same thing… if we continued working hard and dedicate ourselves to running, we could get a college scholarship.”
In came up in our discussions with the follow up questions, that over their four years, Evelyn and Ellen never called Mrs. Medlen “Coach” it was always Mrs. Medlen. Should you see it in their responses I wanted to make that known.
I was talking with Coach Mark Thomas, who’s dad was a coach back then about this upcoming interview at the time, a historian of sorts himself shared his 78′ year book and told me to check the bottom of his closet and he had found this plaque and said they could have it as it was going to be discarded when he found it and this is their reaction upon seeing the old picture of the Trackette’s down in Austin at the state track meet.
It was Mrs. Vanette Medlen, the homemaking teacher who in your words “We just need you to come out. Please. Just be there. Just a body. We just want to run.” Were there others that said no or why were y’all drawn to her?
“We first spoke to the boys track coach, Coach Carl Clark. After a bit of hesitation, he told us he doesn’t coach girls. We also spoke to someone else but don’t recall who it was. In regards to Mrs. Medlen, we both took her homemaking class. She was always cool with us and pretty much all students. She taught us how to improve our cooking and sewing skills. So we thought, why don’t we ask her to be our coach!”
In talking, Coach Clark once Mrs./Coach Medlen was on board assisted with workouts and helping coach. Coach Clark and Mrs. Medlen were awesome team coaches.
Have you kept up with Mrs./Coach Medlen over the years?
“We kept in touch with Mrs. Medlen and her husband, Gordon, until she passed on July 7, 2008?”
It goes to show just how awesome Mrs. Medlen was as to why they kept in touch. Evelyn and Ellen’s parents ran a very structured religious family such that “Smith”, as Mrs. Smith called Evelyn and Ellen’s father, that they needed to do something. “Smith” didn’t want the girls running in a skirt or dress. So Mrs. Medlen came to the rescue. She came to their house and showed their parents that having the girls get down in the starting block position would have a skirt or dress fly up in the process. From that point they could wear shorts and the track team was created.
Did she enjoy take on the role of Coach over the years?
“WOW! Did she enjoy being our coach? With hesitancy, she agreed. During the first year she took the initiative to become more knowledgeable about the sport and even began writing workouts for us to do! Mr. & Mrs. Medlen were a team. Together, they enjoyed coaching us as much as we enjoyed spending time with them; on and off the track!
Oftentimes it was a small crew of us who made it to the state track meet in Austin. Several of our fondest memories were piling in the back of a camper to go to the state meet. Shout out to: Beverly Turner, Donna Thomas, Nedra Washington, Debra Davis, Frances Punch, Barbara Bell.”
Similar to this:
Seeing this camper I had to ask what some of their favorite memories were and two came to mind. Singing really loud that Mr. and Mrs. Medlen heard them up front and being upset when Mrs. Medlen didn’t have snacks for them in the back. Talking about snacks brought up another story just how supportive and great Evelyn and Ellen’s parents were. During one track meet, Mrs. Smith made the twins homemade biscuits from scratch. When they showed up the other girls asked about them. It wasn’t long before Mrs. Smith was making homemade biscuits for the entire girls track team! The biscuits looked so good the boys team asked for some but were told this was a “girls team thing”.
Hearing stories and seeing Trimble Tech transform over the years, what was there/where did you run back in those days leading up to four consecutive 4A state championships?
Events: All relays: 4X100, 4×200, Mile
Ellen-hurdles (both 100m, 300m)
Evelyn-200, 400, LJ, TJ, HJ
NOTE: we were sprinters, but the 100m was just too short for us!
Meet locations: Waco, Clark Stadium (here in FWISD), various other Fort Worth schools, the indoor wood track at the downtown convention center (name we don’t recall), Killeen.
I was raised in Killeen so I asked if they had any particular memories from Killeen track meets. Ellen recalls one trip stepping off the bus/camper and hearing a girl from another team say, “Tech is here! We are going to lose!” Mrs. Medlen never allowed for trash talking and she would say “Show ’em on the track!” Nowadays here at Tech the chant is “I be a Bulldog, who be you? I be a Bulldog too too!” but back then it was “Tech, Tech, Trimble Tech, Tech Tech Bulldogs!” And although there wasn’t any trash talking allowed, Mrs. Medlen would have the entire team jog a slow “victory lap” before every meet-even the throwers and field athletes would be part of this “victory lap”.
Being bold enough to start a track team is one thing, were there times even having a coach, when y’all was told no or faced obstacles that almost got in your way?
“We were raised in the church. We leaned on God 1st, family 2nd, our training, and our team to get us through. When times seemed tough or when fear crept in, we would give the other an unexplainable look. (To this day we still can’t describe it) We would say two words: Hallelujah anyhow! These words are part of a song our former home church use to sing. These are the few, short lyrics:
Hallelujah anyhow, never never let life’s problems get you down. When life’s problems come your way, lift your hands to God & say, Hallelujah anyhow! (repeat, repeat, repeat)
Growing up, we learned that anytime you give God praise, he will show up! Our mom’s favorite saying was: You have not because you ask not. God will provide all your needs. Just ask!”
I asked how close/tight were those teams and got two words “SUPER TIGHT”. They still keep in touch with a few and some through social media. If you were part of those teams and are reading this article, please see the end of this story. An opportunity will be provided for you to email me camper stories or memories of Coach Medlen and/or the twins.
Looking back through the 1978 year book, there were majors back then. Did y’all have goals for after high school other than track or was track the vision?
“Our #1 goal was to go to college. In our class of 300 students, Evelyn, was 3rd (missing salutatorian by .001) and Ellen was 10th.”
What were y’alls majors back then?
Evelyn-my goal was to be a computer programmer or specialize in some area associated with computers. I was intrigued by the large, floor-to-ceiling super computers in Data Processing.
Ellen – Business Administration. My goal was to pursue business management in corporate field.
My initial minor in college was computer science so I had to ask Evelyn from those computers floor to ceiling to the technology now what her thoughts were. She said her mind was blown and still remembered reel to reel computers and working with punch cards back in the day.
Moving on from Trimble Tech, both of y’all were offered full ride scholarships to Texas A&M. Along with Early Douglas, y’all were the first black freshmen ever on the A&M’s women’s track and field team. Was there any hesitation or were you just going to “Go for it.”?
“We were going to ‘GO FOR IT!’. At the time, neither of us knew that we were the first Black women on the team. Ellen and I already had several conversations with one of our older sisters, Gail, about college. We were somewhat prepared for the next step and honestly, we were ready to begin the next chapter in our lives… away from home!
Becoming the Trailblazers entails three parts. Not only were we the first three black females on the Texas A&M Women’s Track & Field team, we ‘earned our letter’ all four (4) years, and the two of us graduated 🎓! WHOOP!”
I asked why they wanted to get “away from home” and at home Evelyn and Ellen were treated as one and they felt sheltered and they wanted to get away.
Normally when I do “Alumni Watches” I generally ask a couple of questions time after time. The first one being as they have normally graduated college, the question did Trimble Tech prepare you for college life. By the both of you starting the girls track team here I think yall prepared yourself for college. So what was the recruiting process back then?
“Colleges coaches were talking to us and Mrs. Medlen at track meets. We honestly do not know what their conversations were, she just told us that some college coaches were approaching her asking information about us. As previously stated, because Gail was more knowledgeable about college, she was instrumental in guiding us through the process. Not only about college life and its expectations, but she also reached out to different colleges and assisted with recruiting, scheduling college campus visits, etc.”
As previously mentioned, the Smith Family is one AWESOME family. All ten children went on to and graduated from college. Evelyn and Ellen didn’t take anything away from their mother but said Gail was a close second matriarch of the family. Gail’s best college advice was “Get that degree, nobody can take that away from you.”
Did Coach Medlen send film of you to different colleges?
“Not that we are aware of. We believe that our recognition was mostly through our performance at track meets; especially at the State Track Meets.”
Did Tech prepare you for college?
“Yes. Without a doubt! Tech offered career options in which students could ‘specialize’. The hands-on opportunities for each trade presented students with real-world experiences.”
While waiting for Evelyn and Ellen to show up I was going through the 76’ and 78’ yearbooks and I saw a picture of Mr. Paul Galvan as an assistant principal. Had to ask their thoughts on Mr. Galvan. “PG?” asked Evelyn. I would never call him that but yes. “AWESOME!!!” they both said. He was super proud of the team, it was PG who told the girls that they needed someone to be out there to have a team. We shared stories as Mr. Galvan was the Athletic Director when I was hired here in 2004.
Second question I always ask, where do you see yourselves in ten years. Evelyn, you were a two time All-American and Ellen you were a three time All-American. Both of you are still active in the track and field community. Where do yall see yourselves in ten years?
Ellen – motivational speaker
Evelyn – entrepreneur
If Disney were to pick up yall story and create a movie, in a Titanic type flashback when we go to us looking at the old 1978 year book reminiscing. . . . who would you like to be playing a Trimble Tech Evelyn and Ellen?
Ellen-Rutina Wesley, Kiki Palmer, Brandi
Evelyn-Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Angela Bassett
Looking back at yall’s track career, starting the program here at Tech, being the first black female track athletes at A&M to being named All-American’s, if a track was ever named in your honor what would you like it called?
Ellen & Evelyn Smith Stadium
Smith Trailblazers Stadium
With everything going on in society today, for our students who don’t go fishing and have that support, what advice would you give to our students about reaching for their dreams?
“Knowledge is power, yet we are the masters of our own fate. Believing in yourself is the key to your success. It requires setting both short-term and long-term goals; preferably those that allow you to develop the tenacity and stamina to persevere. Learn to look at falling down/failures as opportunities to reboot and regroup. Success is attained through determination; despite the many challenges you may face. WITH GOD, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE!”
The twins returned a couple days after the interview to catch up with teammate/alumni Coach Donna Wilson and they did not miss a beat and were joking, laughing, and having a great time talking about the good old days! What was impressive was when all three talked with some of our track athletes and what drives them, I knew the twins were great people but seeing them talk to/inspire our athletes was truly amazing. Reinforcing what Coach Wilson has told them in the past and Ellen and Evelyn driving home that Coach Wilson knows what she is talking about. It was really awesome watching these interactions.
We had to get a photo of the former teammates together, what a better place in front of our recent champions behind Trimble Tech’s first Champions! Trimble Tech’s Track Legacy will continue as District Track is set next week Wednesday and Thursday up at Chisholm Trail High School.
Evelyn (Smith) Golden, Coach Donna Wilson, and Ellen (Smith) Robinson left to right.
I can say this was one of the coolest interviews I have done to date. Digging up history about a team that wasn’t, then a year later, starting a four year dominance of State Championships! That is, should be, a Disney movie if you ask me! There is going to be some more investigation into these amazing track teams as these stories need to be told.
If you were a part of those teams (Beverly Turner, Donna Thomas, Nedra Washington, Debra Davis, Frances Punch, Barbara Bell) and have stories about those camper trips, stories of Mrs. Medlen, please reach out and email me at Jason.email@example.com in the subject line please put “Medlen Memories” and I will post your memories below. Please include your contact information and what I will do is create a excel spreadsheet and share it with everybody so everyone can get back in touch. I am looking forward to hearing about some other great “Medlen Memories” and digging further into Trimble Tech’s magical track history!