05 Jun ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO DEDICATES THE “TOM FLEMING ATHLETIC COMPLEX” IN ESSEX COUNTY BROOKDALE PARK Recreation Facilities are Named in Honor of Long-Distance Running Icon and Beloved Coach and Teacher
Bloomfield/Montclair, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. dedicated the “The Oval” in Essex County Brookdale Park as the “Tom Fleming Athletic Complex” in honor of the late Tom Fleming, an iconic professional runner, coach and elementary school teacher. A native of Bloomfield, Mr. Fleming helped make running a popular sport in the 1970s after he won the New York City Marathon twice and finished second in the Boston Marathon twice.
“Tom was recognized throughout the world as one of the greatest long distance runners from America. But in Essex County, he was a beloved coach and elementary school teacher who unselfishly gave his time to help others on the track or in the classroom. His legacy will be the many lives he touched and people – adult runners, high school athletes and elementary school students – who he inspired,” DiVincenzo said. “Naming the track and field in his honor is the most fitting tribute we can give because it is one of the places he trained,” he added.
“There are several clearly important places to my dad, and Brookdale Park was one of them. The park was a very special sacred place and he never lived more than four miles from here,” said Mr. Fleming’s daughter, Margot. “If there’s one thing we can do to remember my father is to motivate or inspire one person to run or walk or just move more. If we can all do that, we will have achieved something great,” she added.
The complex being named in Mr. Fleming’s honor includes a state-of-the-art, quarter mile, rubberized running track and a multi-purpose football and soccer field with a synthetic grass surface. The rubber surface was installed on the running track and the synthetic grass surface was installed on the soccer/football field in 2004; both were updated again in 2014. The complex currently hosts the Essex County Special Olympics’ Spring Games and area high school athletic competitions, and provides recreational and professional runners and walkers with a place to safely train.
Elected officials from Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Montclair remembered their most famous resident and commented that the complex dedication was a fitting way to remember Mr. Fleming. “It is very humbling to remember Tom Fleming. He would have been impressed with how quickly the County Executive and Freeholders moved on this dedication,” Freeholder Vice President Brendan Gill said. “Tom represented the best in humanity and showed us all the best way to live our lives,” Montclair Mayor and Essex County Administrator Robert Jackson said. “Seldomly do we go through life and meet a person like Tom. This dedication will ensure that the children who run here know who Tom Fleming was,” Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said. “Because of all the time he spent here running, training and coaching, Brookdale Park truly became Tom’s office. This dedication will ensure his legacy lives on,” Glen Ridge Councilman Dan Murphy said.
“Tom epitomized sportsmanship and camaraderie. He was unique because he was a tremendous athlete who wanted to be just as good a coach as he was a runner,” said Jeff Benjamin, Long Distance Running Chair with USA Track & Field, New York.
Mr. Fleming’s name was placed at the top of the scoreboard. A bronze plaque outlining his career, accomplishments and contributions is located in a raised flower bed at the base of the scoreboard. The plaque begins with Mr. Fleming’s famous quote: “Somewhere, someone in the world is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win.” It continues: “Most elite runners train twice a day – it was not unusual, however, for local track icon Tom Fleming to train three times – covering 150 miles a week. He began running at Bloomfield High School and then at William Paterson College, becoming a four-time NCAA All-American and Conference Champion. At the height of his career, Fleming won the New York City Marathon twice, in 1973 and 1975. He placed second in the Boston Marathon, in 1973 and 1975, when he achieved a 2:12:05 PR. Tom opened one of the first running stores in 1978 where, true to his love of the sport, he would mentor anyone seeking running advice. For the past 18 years, he taught 4th grade and coached boys and girls track at Montclair Kimberly Academy, passionate about passing on his skills, encouraging each student to strive for their personal best. A charismatic storyteller, generous with his time and talent, he taught everyone that the only way to succeed was to work hard.”
Members of the Montclair Kimberley Academy community remembered Mr. Fleming’s outgoing nature and his ability to inspire others. “Tom’s legacy went far beyond the track and the classroom. His love for the sport of running and his love for children – that’s what Tom was all about,” MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith said. “Mr. Fleming always believed in me in the classroom and on the track. He was a very important part of my life and touched so many other people,” said Sarah Hobbs, a member of the MKA Class of 2021 who had Mr. Fleming has her fourth-grade teacher and was a member of his running club. At the start of the dedication ceremony, the “Fleming 15,” the current fourth graders in Mr. Fleming’s class shared stories of how he made them laugh, inspired them in the classroom and encouraged them to achieve.
The Essex County North 13th Street Campus track team was participating in the track and field meet in Verona on the day Mr. Fleming passed away. Inspired by his good nature and impact in the sport, they raised money to support the Special Olympics in his honor and created inspirational cards that they shared with Fleming’s family and the MKA track team.
Mr. Fleming passed away suddenly on Wednesday, April 19th while coaching the Montclair Kimberley Academy’s track and field team at a meet in Verona. He had been working at MKA as a fourth-grade teacher and varsity track and field and cross country coach since 2000.
Mr. Fleming was born in Long Branch, N.J., raised in Bloomfield and attended Bloomfield High School, where he began his career as a competitive runner. He continued running as a member of the track team at William Paterson College, now William Paterson University, where he earned status as an All-American. During his senior year at William Paterson College in 1973, Mr. Fleming competed in a track meet on a Saturday and then ran the Boston Marathon two days later, finishing second. Later that same year, he entered the New York City Marathon and finished first.
The win was just one highlight of his successful competitive long-distance running career. He won the New York Marathon twice in 1973 and 1975 when all 26.2 miles of the contest were run in loops of Central Park (the race expanded to the five boroughs of New York in 1976), the Jersey Shore Marathon three times and won marathons in Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington and Cleveland. In addition, he had two second place finished in the Boston Marathon a fifth-place finish in the 1976 Olympic Trials.
After retiring from competitive running, Mr. Fleming made the successful transition to coaching. He was the coach and founder of the Nike Running Room in Bloomfield, which won three consecutive USA National Cross Country Championships in 1990, 1991 and 1992; served as the USA Track and Field national distance coach from 1991 to 1997; was the founder and meet director for the Sunset Classic 5-mile road race (which raises money for special needs children in the Bloomfield Public Schools) in his hometown of Bloomfield for 12 years; and helped Anne Marie Letko and Joe LeMay qualify for the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000, respectively.
He was awarded the United Nations Peace Medal in 1977 and was inducted into the American Road Runners Club of America Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2013 and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., in 2014.
The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. At 121.41 acres, Brookdale Park is the third largest park in the Essex County System. Land for the park was purchased between 1928 and 1931.