UNDER HER WATCH: Beverly Kearney has ledÂ the Texas women’s track and field team to six titles in her 17 seasons but her storyÂ of perseverance and commitment to helping others off the track has had more far-reaching effects.Â
Beverly Kearney isn’t defined by her resume, one that places her among the most decorated college coaches not just in track and field, but also in all sports.
In 17 seasons, the University of Texas women’s track and field coach has won six national championships – not including one at Florida -coached 37 players to NCAA championships, saw 54 become All-Americans and watched as nine later won Olympic medals. Two of them, Sanya Richards and Melanie Walker, took home three medals (two gold) at the Beijing Olympic Games last year.
But that only tells part of her story, one that serves an inspiration to not just her athletes but anyone she comes in contact with.
A fiery competitor, she puts the same energy into her community that she has into coaching, mentoring at-risk youth and providing assistance to single mothers. It was something she yearned to do while coaching at Florida but didn’t have the resources or the community to tap into.
Â “The main thing that has guided my career is that it’s always been more about winning,” Kearney said in a phone interview from Austin. “It’s been about providing an opportunity and preparing the student-athletes for life.”
It’s a lesson she has learned through adversity. Her mother passed away while in high school, she was temporarily homeless after her grandmother died soon after and became paralyzed after an automobile accident in 2002.
But through her travels, she developed the ability to adapt in any situation. When she moved to Pasadena and Monrovia during her elementary and middle school years, she was encouraged to speak her mind.
She believes in empowering her players to find hope in their own vision. Part of that includes making sure her players graduate on time – a mission that started when she attended Auburn and saw many students drop out before receiving their degree.
“I always knew that education was the key to our success as a community,”
That bold attitude was also fostered at home. Her mother built her competitive spirit by inviting Kearney and her siblings in gambling with their allowance money on Sundays. If they lost, that was it for the week.
“It made me hate losing,” Kearney said.
She also saw how her mother worked tirelessly at a dry cleaners and provided for the family. After her sudden death during her senior year of high school, it further motivated her to continue those lessons in the classroom when she attended Auburn University after two years at Hillsborough Community College (Fla.)
It was a drive that saw her become a two-time All-American at Auburn and a successful coach at Florida, becoming the first Black coach to win an SEC championship and later an NCAA title (the 1992 Indoor championship)
She had briefly caused a stir when she tried to bring an All-Black coaching staff to Texas after being hired in 1993 as the first Black head coach in school history. While other Black coaches and community leaders tried to dissuade her from doing it, she got support from another female pioneer – Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer.
“She told me if you’re losing, it doesn’t matter what your staff looks like because you’re going to be fired. But if you’re winning, they won’t care what color your staff is. So hire who you need to hire because you have to perform,” Kearney said.
It was words she took to heart. Since that first year, he has continued to have at least one female and one person of color on her staff at all times.
“It’s about providing an opportunity for someone else,” Kearney said.
Those words have no doubt inspired her Pursuit of Dreams foundation. As more support came after the accident, she used it to expand the program’s reach beyond athletics and help people in the Austin community.
By seeing the accident as a chance to spread her message to others, it wasa direct challenge to those who wanted to feel sorry for her and thought she would be fully handicapped.
“I never saw the magnitude of what everyone else saw around me. There was nothing to overcome if you don’t allow yourself to go there.”
She focused on what she could still do as her mind and spirit were still active. She still coached from the hospital bed and, to no one’s surprise, checked herself out in March 2003.
Two years later, she performed what many called her finest coaching job. At the 2005 NCAA Outdoor championships in Sacramento, she took a squad of only seven athletes and won the title in dramatic fashion – winning the meet’s final event (the 4 x 400 meter relay).
All seven earned All-America honors and she praised them for showing how great they could be because they believed in each other.
With all of Kearney’s numerous honors, including being inducted in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame, perhaps the most significant will come at the end of the month when she is honored as the Black Coaches Association’s Female Coach of the Year.
To be honored by her peers, she said, it’s approval of not just her career, but the work she is doing in a field where she has blazed trails for other coaches of color as well as uplifted others to achieve their own dreams.
It’s a journey that she looks forward to continuing with not just this current Texas team but teams in the future as well as community members who appreciate a helping hand from someone who has always looked to extend it.Â