Track & Field: Remembering MKA coach Tom Fleming
by Andrew Garda
The New Jersey sports community lost a legend last week as two-time New York City Marathon winner and Montclair Kimberley Academy teacher and track coach Tom Fleming passed away of a heart attack at a track meet in Verona.
Fleming carved a large figure not just in Montclair, but all across New Jersey as a champion for track and field. He was inducted into both the USA Distance Running Hall of Fame and the National Road Runners Club Hall of Fame.
He was also awarded the United Nations Peace Medal in 1977.
Fleming started out his running career at Paterson State College (now William Paterson University), where he would become a four-time NCAA All-American. He also received the Special Achievement Award from the N.J. Sports Writers Association in 1973, became a New Jersey AAU three-mile champion in 1972 and AAU six-mile champion in 1969, 1970, and 1972, named the NAIA All-American in 1970 and was Conference champion for four consecutive years.
Professionally, in addition to his wins in the NYC Marathon in 1973 and 1975, Fleming finished in second place twice while running the Boston Marathon (and six times in the top 10), and won the Jersey Shore Marathon three times. He also won the Los Angeles Marathon in 1981, the Toronto Marathon in 1978 and the Cleveland Marathon in 1978. In addition, he had two second-place finishes in the Boston Marathon and a fifth-place finish in the 1976 Olympic Trials.
Fleming taught at MKA for 18 years and touched the lives of countless children both on and off the track. Not surprisingly, Fleming spent 12 years as the meet director for the Sunset Classic, which raises money for special-needs children in schools in his hometown of Bloomfield.
Given the far reach of his legacy, it should come as no surprise that there is talk of renaming the Brookdale Park Athletic Complex after Fleming. As first reported by Tapinto.net, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. has announced that he is proposing an ordinance to dedicate the complex as the “Essex County Tom Fleming Athletic Complex.”
“Naming the complex will be a fitting tribute that will keep Tom’s legacy alive and hopefully inspire future generations to follow in his footsteps,” DiVincenzo said to Tapinto.net.
MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith called the news “devastating,” adding “I will miss him greatly, as Tom Fleming helped me become a better coach, a better educator, a better athletic director, and most importantly a better man.”
He also called Fleming’s dedication both to the sport and to his students “truly remarkable” and his work an inspiration to all.
Montclair Township Councilman Bob Russo says Fleming sold him his first set of running shoes and a pair of Bill Rodgers running shorts from his store on Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield Center.
“I still have those shorts,” Russo said in a statement to the Local. “What a great coach [and] contributor to our community! Montclair, Bloomfield & MKA will miss him dearly.”
Fleming had been quoted as saying, “Somewhere, someone in the world is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win.”
Even when not running professionally, Fleming was known as a determined runner who often put in long miles even in inclement weather. When he was training, Fleming was said to run between 130 to 140 miles during an average week, sometimes closing in on 200 miles a week, so it’s clear he believed what he said.
Whether the Brookdale Park Athletic Complex is named for him or not, it’s clear that Tom Fleming’s legacy will go on for a long time, running with all his former friends, students and competitors.