with gallery: Friends, family gather to celebrate the life of women's sports pioneer Red Simmons
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The day Lloyd Carr took over the controls of the Michigan football program, he received a message from Red Simmons.
And it was one he never forgot.
"My first day of my head coaching career at Michigan, he came in and knocked on the door," Carr recalled Thursday. "He came over and he gave me one of his medals that he'd won (as an athlete). And he said 'the day's going to come when you're coaching career will be over, and make sure when it's over, you've got the three things listed on the back of the medal.'
"I turned it over and it said 'family, friends, health.' ... It's amazing how many times in my career I thought about that advice."
Carr was among the more than 100 people who gathered at Michigan's Junge Family Champions Center on Thursday to celebrate the life of Simmons, the university's first women's track coach, who died last Friday at the age of 102.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson were also in attendance, as were Simmons' family and friends.
Also on hand Thursday was Debbie Williams-Hoak, a member of Simmons' first women's track team at Michigan. Also offering memories of Simmons' life were Olympian Francie Kraker Goodridge, current Michigan women's track coach James Henry, Michigan Women's Track and Field Hall of Famer Sue Foster and both Simmons' son, Larry, and grandson, David.
On paper, Simmons' credentials were staggering:
A 25-year Detroit Police Department veteran, Michigan's first honorary 'M' man, a member of the Eastern Michigan Hall of Fame and the founder of the Ann Arbor women's track club, Michigammes.
To those in attendance Thursday, he was so much more than that.
A man ahead of his time, Simmons was a champion of women's sports in general, and -- as Carr put it -- a true pioneer.
"(When) movements begin, it starts with individuals," said Kraker Goodridge, an original member of the Michigammes and a competitor in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. "It starts with people who do (something) because they believe in it, not because they think they're leading a movement. He just did it.
"He was such an inspiration."
Kraker Goodridge recalled how she first came in contact with Simmons, whose first wife, Betty, was her grade school physical education teacher.
The Simmons' approached Kraker Goodridge and her family about training for the Olympics, something she says was unheard of in the days "when they used to tell women they couldn't ride bicycles."
Kraker Goodridge was one of Simmons' first pupils, but not his last.
After finding success with the Michigammes, Simmons was able to bring women's track and field to the forefront in Ann Arbor after the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972, eventually becoming the school's first women's track coach in 1976 -- and ultimately leading the sport to varsity status in 1978.
"It's been wonderful to be able to honor him," Goodridge said. "I enjoyed being able to celebrate his 90th birthday and his 100th, and because he was so vital to everything, many of us just expected the clock to (keep turning). So this was hard.
"(He) was like the old Volvo or something that just kept clicking over on the clock for the next 100 years. But really, to us, he's not gone."
Simmons' legacy at Michigan is obvious. He'll forever be remembered as a founder of what has become an extremely successful varsity sport.
But for those in attendance Thursday, Simmons' lasting legacy stretches far beyond Ann Arbor.
It touches every chasm of organized women's athletics as it stands today.
"He heard a different drummer," Carr said. "When I was in high school, I can remember the girls had a basketball (team), but they didn't play full court. The theory was, girls couldn't run. We just grew up accepting it, a lot of people did.
"But eventually some people said, 'Wait a minute, what are we doing?' Those people (Simmons included) were pioneers."