Our city lost a local icon and national treasure over the weekend when Dick Gregory passed away at the age of 84.
Gregory was a prominent civil rights activist, comedian, author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur all wrapped up into one powerful package.
I had the honor of sharing the same stage with Mr. Gregory years ago at a couple of Gateway Classic Sports Foundation events in which he was the guest speaker and I was the master of ceremonies. To spend time with him was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget. He was an amazing man.
There are people much more qualified than me who can speak to Dick Gregory’s enormous impact as a civil rights leader. As a sports person, what I can speak to is his prowess as excellent athlete before he ever became the social conscience of Black America for so many decades.
Dick Gregory was a fantastic track and field/cross country performer during his high school days at Sumner High in the early 1950s. Sumner High has been the home to some of the greatest athletes that this city has even seen. Dick Gregory is one of those great former Bulldogs. Along with his younger brother Ronald, the Gregory brothers dominated high school distance running in the state for the first half of the decade. Both of them have been inducted into the Missouri Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Dick Gregory got things rolling for the family when he won consecutive state championships in cross country in 1951 and 1952. He also became a state champion on the track in the 880-yard run and the mile.
After his stellar high school career, Gregory ventured to Southern Illinois University, where he competed for two seasons. At one time, he held the school record in both the mile and the 880. He was the first African American to receive the SIU Outstanding Athletic Award. Gregory is also a member of SIU’s Athletic Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2000.
Gregory’s tremendous success at Sumner merely set the stage for his brother Ronald, who continued the family dominance in cross country by winning state championships in 1954, ’55 and ’56. On May 25, 1956, he broke the national record in the mile with a time of 4 minutes 19.2 seconds.
Ron Gregory earned a scholarship to Notre Dame, where he went on to stardom in both cross country and track. When his career ended, he left Notre Dame with 13 school records.
The late, great Dick Gregory was a stellar performer on so many levels. It was cool to see that part of his legendary story began on the athletic field.