When Lee Williams was in the seventh grade he found out exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
“At the time I didn’t even know what a track coach was,” said Williams, who was hooked after consistently outrunning kids that were older that he was. “But I just knew I wanted to be one.”
Now after 50-plus years of running, jumping, throwing, learning, and teaching, Williams’ exceptional career will be honored with his induction into the Texas Track & Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Williams is one of eight inductees that will be part of the 10th annual class that will be enshrined beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine.
“It’s long overdue if you ask me,” said Stuart Kantor, Co-Executive Director of the TT&FCA. “If you look back at his overall resume including his national records, one of which still stands and one that was broken last year, he was definitely doing something right.”
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Williams spent his whole career in Fort Worth starring in track at Fort Worth Polytechnic and TCU. He coached two years at a middle school before taking his first varsity job at Fort Worth North Side for the 1979 season. After one year there it was off to Fort Worth Wyatt where the rest is history...literally.
The “resume” Kantor speaks of includes producing 52 All-Americans, winning 15 district championships, 4 regional championships, and 2 state championship teams in 1998 (Class 5A) and 2002 (4A). Williams won 7 regional titles in the 4x100 relay and 6 regional titles in the 4x400. He also coached Nick Johnson whose time of 10:29 in the 100 meters at the 2000 Junior Olympics meet in Denton set a world record for 16-year-olds at the time.
Off the track, Williams was honored twice by the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association as the Coach of the Year for the state of Texas in 1999 and 2003. The University Interscholastic League’s Distinguished Service Award went to Williams in 2017. Williams missed taking a team to the state meet only 8 times between 1979 and 2013.
The cherry on top?
That would be the spring of 1998 when seniors DeMario Wesley, Monte Clopton and Michael Franklin, along with DeMario’s younger brother Milton Wesley, a sophomore, set the track world on fire.
The quartet set national high school records in the 4x100 and the 4x200 relays. The 4x100 mark of 39.76, which was set at the state meet, is a mark that still holds to this day. The 4x200 time of 1:23.31 held up for 20 years, but was finally broken by The Woodlands, which posted a 1:23.25 at the 2018 state meet.
“It’s a lifetime legacy,” said Clopton who ran the second leg after Milton Wesley. Franklin ran the third leg with DeMario Wesley anchoring the team. “Everywhere we go that’s what they see us as, the record holders.”
After late season injuries to DeMario Wesley and Franklin in 1997, Williams knew he had a chance for something special the next year. After running the first sub-40 (39.99) electronically timed 4x100 at the regional meet in Lubbock, the four high school students turned into rock stars.
The mark not only took down Jasper’s national record of 40.09 set in 1991, but created a buzz for people wanting to see the boys from Fort Worth run a 39 at the state meet. So much so that Williams hired a former Wyatt track athlete who was a federal agent to keep fans, reporters, and even family members away from them at state.
If the hype wasn’t enough of a distraction, finding out that they would be running the 4x100 from Lane 1 at the state meet was also a concern. It was the last year for the meet to be run at Memorial Stadium with its long straights and sharp corners surrounding the football field making the feat that much more difficult.
Williams contends that they could have run a 39.5 or 39.4 at the wide-turn, European-style track at Mike A. Myers Stadium where the contest was moved to the next year.
It was normal for Williams to isolate his team before events, warming up outside of stadiums and only coming in right before time to perform. But that was especially helpful at state.
“We were always separated from everyone else, which was the smart thing,” Franklin recalled before entering Memorial Stadium before an estimated 40,000 in attendance. “Coach Williams told us to go out there and do a warm-up lap, but we were like ‘we ain’t trying to get disqualified before the track meet starts’. We got the OK so we took our warm up laps, heard the crowd, and knew then that it was time to get prepared.”
“I was nervous until they stepped on the track,” Williams remembered right before the record setting 4x100. “And to me they acted like they were the only ones on the track and I knew that they were ready to run then.”
DeMario Wesley went on to win the 100 and 200 meter dashes at the meet while Franklin surprised even himself with a third place finish in the 400. Kemone Rodgers joined Milton Wesley, Clopton, and Franklin to finish second in the 4x400.
The 1998 4x100 team ran under 40 seconds five different times. The regional meet in Lubbock (39.99), the state meet in Austin (39.78), the Golden South Classic in Orlando, Florida (39.82), and twice at the outdoor nationals in Raleigh, North Carolina (39.80 in the prelims and 39.92 in the final).
“In the finals at North Carolina, Little Milton’s blocks slipped on him and he went down on all fours,” said Williams. “When he got up and the race was over they had went 39.92. And that’s when I had to take them down by the fence and tell them how special they were. That was something special and as a coach I’ll never forget that.”
Williams’ workouts were a lot of running and a lot of technique with a strong dose of encouragement to his kids that they could do great things. DeMario Wesley groaned as he mentioned having to run eight 300’s and Franklin admits that there was a lot of conditioning, but all agreed that it was well worth it.
Another key factor was William’s insight to not overwork a team that was “running at a very high level for over six weeks.” The team only worked out on the track three times a week after the regional meet.
The 4x200 record was actually done on a whim and is a testament to the talent of the team. The event was not offered by the UIL for boys at the state meet in 1998 and Wyatt had only run the event twice at actual meets before being challenged to participate in it at the Golden South Classic. Their time of 1:23.31 was almost 4 seconds faster than the second place team at the meet and obliterated Long Beach (Calif.) Poly’s national record of 1:24.79 set earlier that year.
Williams and the 1998 squad brought another round of accolades including the Texas High School Coaches Association ‘Award for Outstanding Achievement’. Congressman Martin Frost made the records known nationally as a Matter of Congressional Record before the House. Texas Senator Mike Moncrief recognized Williams and the entire 1998 title team with State Resolution 642. Two cities, Fort Worth and Forest Hill, honored Williams and the team by Proclamation. In 2010 the UIL named the Wyatt 4x100 relay team to the Boys Track & Field All-Century Team.
“It was like the perfect storm,” said Anthony Criss, the current head football coach at Arlington Sam Houston and an assistant track coach for Williams in 1998. “Those four kids were exceptional athletes and with him as coach.... He ruled with an iron fist, but both the boys and girls he’s coached over the years loved him. He was tough, but he loved each and every one of his kids.”
Not many of us ever find our true life’s calling. Williams has lived it and loved it.
FORMER TCU SPRINTER ALSO BEING INDUCTED
Former TCU sprinter Darvis “Doc” Patton is also part of the class to be inducted on Friday.
Patton, a Dallas Lake Highlands graduate, was a staple of American sprinting for more than a decade. He won two USA Outdoor Championships in the 200 (2002; 20.31, and 2003; 20.15) and two Olympic silver medals as part of the 4x100 team (2004, 2012.)
Patton is the first TCU athlete to win an indoor conference long jump title and the first Horned Frog to win a conference long jump crown of any kind since 1970 when he won the WAC Indoor title. “Doc” is a 10-time NCAA All-American and an eight-time JUCO All-American at Garden City (Kansas).