Ex-Olympic track star Jenkins wins honors The Athletics Congress inducts Sykesville resident

February 15, 1993|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,Staff Writer

An illustrious track career that began at his aunt's insistence came to a fitting conclusion recently when Sykesville resident Charlie Jenkins was inducted into The Athletics Congress Hall of Fame in Indianapolis.

He was a double gold-medal winner at the Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956 (400 and 4 x 400 relay) while a student at Villanova and later coached for 10 years at his alma mater.

At Villanova, Jenkins, 58, had the opportunity to coach his son, Chip, who would match his father's effort with a gold medal as a member of the 4 x 400 relay team in Barcelona last summer.

"I was quite honored to learn I'd been inducted. I was nominated a few years back and had sort of given up. It's nice," Jenkins said.

He added jokingly: "Any accolade I can get as an old man is wonderful."

It all began at Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge, Mass., in the early 1950s. After his mother died when he was 15, Jenkins moved in with his aunt, Agnes Wheatley, and her three children. All three -- two sons and a daughter -- participated in athletics in high school, and Aunt Agnes expected the same from her nephew.

"At first, I thought I'd go out for the basketball team, but one of my cousins talked me into running track because a lot of my friends were on the team," Jenkins said.

"It looked really silly seeing everyone just running around the track. But the coach [Tom Duffy] was high quality and the kids were nice, so I was happy to go out."

After just six months of competing, Jenkins already was making his mark, finishing third in states in the 400 his sophomore year. He lost just once in the indoor and outdoor season his junior year and was untouchable his senior year.

He recalls the strong support he received from his aunt, now 86 and still residing in Cambridge, who at the time coached women's track.

"I can remember telling her one time during my junior year that I thought I'd finish fourth in a particular race, and she said, 'You better win it and break the record.' I did just that," he said.

"She even wrote me in college and told me how to run the quarter-mile in the Olympic Games."

His two gold medals are tucked away in a box atop his closet. He had not checked up on them for years until he moved to Sykesville -- taking a federal government position with the Social Security Administration in Baltimore -- about five months ago with his wife, Issie.

He said he brought home much more from Melbourne than the two medals.

"The whole Olympic experience was a wonderful experience," he said.

"The friendships that came with it are very meaningful. Competing at that level, putting in the time, effort and energy and being able to accomplish what I set out to was gratifying and I still thank God today."

"It was hard to believe at the time and really took a day or two to sink in."

He earned his bachelor's degree at Villanova in 1958 and got his doctorate at the University of Massachusetts before taking a federal government position.

He received an honorary doctorate at Villanova in 1978 and accepted the track and field coaching job there in 1981 -- replacing legendary coach Jim Elliot, who had died. In his 10 years, he coached Villanova to five Big East indoor titles, three outdoor titles and an NCAA second-place finish in the 1986 indoor championships.

"Perhaps the most rewarding experience of all," he said, "was seeing the development of my son and the success he's enjoyed."

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