Mercury Track Club – Legends
One of the most successful youth track programs in the country started in SW Atlanta, Georgia. The Mercury Track Club was organized to build and combine some of the top track and field talent in Atlanta to compete around the country. Started by Charles Rambo in the early 70’s, he began his journey from 1968-1971 with the beginnings of a track club he started for his son Tony named, “The Ponderosa.” With help from coaches, Jerry “Fats” Everette, Robert McFadden, Robert Wilkens, Clinton Moreland and Tony Ballard, the legacy began. They aspired to establish a program that could be seen worldwide for training and sculpting future Olympians. Some of those future Olympians were: Gwen Torrance, Antonio McKay, Stanley Blaylock and Sam Grady; along with NFL player star Willie Gault, Stanley Floyd (once considered the World’s fastest human alive in 1980), former Ga Tech football star Chuck Easley, and 1980-81 Penn Relay 400-meter Hurdle Champion Tony Rambo. With this impressive start, Coach Charles Rambo went on to help change the lives of several young men and women. From 1971-1984 Mercury Track Club would have 48 members invited to participate in the Olympic Trails. Through the years, Mercury Track Club earned an unprecedented reputation for training the best; those with a tremendous desire of becoming successful young men and women through track. Not just was the program nationally known for prominent runners, but it was also known for its tough coach who expected perfection and once turned down the opportunity to coach college track, he was dedicated to stay with the young runners and make them great. Check out the following interview with Coach Rambo as he talks about his journey; how he started Mercury Track Club, his upbringing, and his true passion for coaching.
Mercury Track Club Coaching Staff (1972 photo) Left to right: Charles Rambo, Jerry "Fats" Everette, Robert McFadden, Robert Wilkens, Clinton Moreland and Tony
BB: Coach Rambo thank you for taking the time to sit down for an interview, tell me about how you started Mercury Track Club.
Coach Rambo: Before I get into Mercury Track Club, I want to go back and tell you about me. I was born in Tallahassee, Florida to Viola Kilpatrick and Lynton Rambo on August 5, 1941. We moved around and lived in Bainbridge, Georgia. I spent time living with my grandmother (Savannah Jenkins Rambo) most of the time until she passed away. At that time, I went to stay with my dad until he passed when I was 10 years old. I then went to stay with my aunt Leslie Rambo, she did the best for me that she could, but staying with her I never had a curfew, so I became mischievous, breaking into stores, hanging out etc. At one point my cousin and I were
breaking into a store, and even the American Legion Home. In the 3rd grade, I just decided that I was not going to go to school anymore and stayed in trouble. We ended up breaking into the pool at night and teaching ourselves how to swim, I would peak through the fence and watch instructors from FAMU teach the kids but couldn’t afford to pay the ten-dollar charge. We would watch and later come back break in and practice; fast forward I used this and became the Orange County 100-meter freestyle champion and 100-meter butterfly champion using the dolphin kick
13 years old
Dozier School For Boys
We were eventually caught and sent to the reformatory school in Marianna, Florida, the Dozier School for Boys in the 7th grade. I had to get up every other morning at 4:30am and work at the dairy and go to school. This created a strong will inside of me with my body and mind. When I came home, people were scared of me because I had been in reform school. The reform school was designed to break you, now being uneducated “A fool was the most valued commodity in our existence. It was design for you to be subservient, but we learned many skills dealings with cows and milking and taking care of animals. During my time I dealt, with getting whooped with leather straps and it had a traumatic effect on my life, even when I went back to visit during my adult years. I was finally released after about 8 months and went to live with my aunt and attended Griffin Middle School, where I started swimming and playing basketball. I was blessed to meet during my time swimming Dr. Brickler, one of the top black surgeons in Tallahassee and Dr. Stephens. I met them when I was 14 years old. They built pools and taught their kids how to swim and they would take care of me. They would make sure I had the nicest clothes, and money in my pocket. I went to Lincoln High School and played football, basketball, and swam but was well known throughout the state for my swimming. When I graduated from high school, I was 19, because I was so far behind from not attending school for a year. I graduated from high school, I started dating my girlfriend, we had my son Tony, she was offered a job as a Speech Therapist in DeKalb County Schools while working at the school post office at Florida State University. We moved to Atlanta, and it was hard to get a job in Atlanta without a degree, but I ended up getting a job at Anderson Park for Parks and Recreation in 1966. I started a little league football team at Anderson Park and decided I wanted to start a track club. The first name of the track team was the Ponderosa, so we started it and other kids wanted to join. Lafayette Beamon was a well-known architect and was enamored by the way I coached, he saw my innate ability to teach starts, and strides. The track club grew from 8 or 9 kids to like 150 in a span of time and added 8 or 9 coaches. At the same time the football team at Anderson Park had won 7 state championships at an all-black park. We were doing things they could not imagine we would be doing in football: pulling, cross blocking, etc. In track people expected us to be just sprinters but we were more than that, we had some of the best young hurdlers and state champions and national champions around including: Tony Rambo, Dexter Hawkins, Alison McCrary, Winfred Jordan, Yoda Rambo, Stanley Blalock, and Emanuel Blakeney and we picked up former Chicago Bear Willie Gault. In the sprints, we picked up Olympians Antonio McKay and Sam Graddy, Alice Jackson, Stanley Blalock, and Stanley Floyd. There was a slew of young female sprinters that came through the club as well: Marion Starling, Demetris Broadnax, Sherrell Brown (Youth Girls National 400-meter record holder), Kathy Harrison, Sandra Smith, Kawana Landers, Candice Pritchett (Youth Girls National Champ), Loren White (Youth Girls 800-meter national Champion) and Lulabelle Hubbard. Lester Mickens and Jerome Williams were 880-yard dash state champions in their respective era’s. Young men like Riccardo Pritchett (800 meters and mile) and Chico Mayes (50-yard dash) at ages 10-11. Therefore, we decided to combine all the kids from the best parks to try to make Mercury the best track club around. If there was any misconception about me coaching through all the years is, I would not coach my son Tony. While I wanted to treat everyone the same, I may have been harder on my son than anyone else. Tony went on to become a state champion and collegiate champion and one of the top (3) hurdlers in the world in 1983-1984, behind legendary Edwin Moses and Danny Harris. While we were a family at time, we had our struggles, Stanley Blaylock was considered one of the best around who we got from Capital Homes but decided to leave which caused a rift between him and Tony. Blaylock left us, but in the end, he came back to us and we worked through things and lifted him to be bigger and better. One of the toughest times for me personally is when I left the club and left it to Gus Pritchett. I had a bout with drugs, which lead me to walk away from the team. I did not want to disappoint the runners and parents, and it called personal problems in my marriage and my life. It caused problems on my job as well because I was athletic supervisor downtown and one day decided to walk off the job. I decided to take all of my retirement money and went through it within two months. My life got changed by a friend convincing me to attend church and it changed my life. I turned my life over to God and became an ordained minister. I learned that adversity brings strength.
BB: What are the most defining moments of Mercury Track Club?
Coach Rambo: For Mercury Track Club to have 6 or 7 runners running at a high level on the collegiate and world level: Stanley Floyd, Willie Gault, Antonio McKay, Sam Graddy, Tony Rambo, Jerome Williams, Allen Buford, Stanley Blalock, Lester Mickens, and Emmanuel Blakeney. They were at major colleges: South Carolina, Ga Tech, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee. Another personal defining moment was coming out of the doctor’s office at Atlanta Medical Center, and a man dropped to his knees and called me a legend. He wanted me to know how important I was to him and others in the community, so I got on my knees and gave it back to him. If he saw me like that, I also saw him like that and wanted to give him the same. To be on the Westside of Atlanta and people see me and tell me the things I have done for them, I accept it humbly and gracefully
BB: We have seen how far track has come in the city, what are your thoughts?
Coach Rambo: Mercury Track Club planted the seed for inner city youth who did not have the finances for the bigger track clubs. We made track as accepted as football, basketball, and baseball around the city and country. With the coaches we had, while I was considered the founder they were just as much part of the success of Mercury as I was. “Fats” Jerry Everett was a great evaluator of talent, Coach Ballard, could teach the start better than anyone, Coach McFadden taught the hurdle game. He taught what became some of the greatest hurdlers in the country in youth track and field, Tony Rambo, Stanley Blalock, Allison McCrary, Dexter Hawkins, and
Emmanuel Blakeney and a few others. He helped Winfred Jordan become a national record holder in the 50-meter hurdles.
BB: What will be the legacy of Mercury Track Club?
To see my son, grow up, and become a great student of the game, and ambassador for track and field mentoring young people through coaching. Winfred Jordan from running with Mercury to having his own youth basketball program as we passed the baton to him and he continues to work and mentor youth. Stanley Blalock coaches and mentors track and field in Hawaii (One of the best to ever do it). Working with people from different races, and people from all over to promote unity. Mercury Track Club was the first competing track and field program in the city of Atlanta, and that cannot be replaced. There will never be anything that comes through the city like Mercury Track Club and its influence.
Former Mercury Track Club runner and Ga Tech Football Player Chuck Easley recalls his time running with Mercury…
Mercury Track Club was known around the state of Georgia, especially in Atlanta, if you were fast that was the club you ran for. Whenever you went to meets you were looking for Mercury because of their uniforms with the black and red, they always looked together and how they performed. Growing up I was considered amazingly fast, racing older kids and teachers and winning. I met Coach Rambo, after being encouraged to run track by one my classmate’s moms. She explained that I should think about running summer track and joining a club. I decided to run unattached and did fairly well, this help gained interest from different track clubs. Coach Rambo came over to talk to me and my dad, he had such a presence that was like birds would stop chirping. I was thinking about it and I decided to go with a track club called Cougars, I liked the cat reference and I was Leo and decided to run with them. I would see Mercury at other track meets and Coach Rambo would always come over and extend the offer to run. I knew that Mercury was the number one-track team in Georgia, I wanted to see if I could beat everyone on the team. I wanted to prove to myself I could compete with them before I joined them, and this was always in the back of my mind. I saw them in a regional meet, I had qualified in several events as well as my team. The meet was in the state where my aunt lived so we decided to go up early and visit her. I was not sure my whole team would make the meet, so we made it a family vacation. We were supposed to rendezvouses at a certain time but no one from my team showed up. My dad called the coaches and found out the team was not coming; I didn’t have a team or uniform. My dad had information to register me unattached, so we see Coach Rambo and he vouched for me and said I was with them being from Atlanta. It said a lot for me about Coach Rambo he was a strong, charismatic, firm and caring. He opened his arms and allowed me to run, on the way home I told my dad that I wanted to run for Mercury. The next season came back and ran for Mercury, as Coach Rambo kept building a team which became an excellent culture. He was ahead of his time with the training and the mental games that he played with us about our times and our approach. Running for Mercury Track Club was one of the best times of my life. He always found a way to make us more confident and develop us as better runners and better people. He changed a lot of lives and for some of us gave us that father figure that was needed.
Stanley Blalock, Former Mercury Track Club runner, Track Coach and Legend recalls his time running with Mercury…
As we know back in the day, we had parks and recreation centers all over Atlanta, I lived in the Martin Luther King Middle School area, and we had Martin Luther King Rec area. I was what you called the Capitol Homes Boys, grew up in a family of 6, with a single mom. There was a guy at the parks and recs name Jerry Everett, we called “Fats”. He happens to see me run in this parks and recs meets back in the day and invited me to come out for Mercury Track Club. You must understand back then Mercury was not a tryout, it was a club welcome for all. That is the way Coach Rambo wanted it, to do it for all kids. Back in the day Capitol Homes was not a great place to live, it was government housing. I got invited to Mercury Track Club, and in my early years it was one the biggest turning points in my life at an early age. If I would not have gotten there and with Coach Rambo and all the great coaches, I probably would have been a kid selling drugs on the streets. That was just the way that area was, that was how to make it back then over that way. When I started with Mercury Track Club it was like a whole different world for me, I was a kid from the low-income area and at the time most of the kids on the team were from middle class. I was lost sometimes I did not even know how to act, because it was a different standard of living. Coach Rambo and those coaches welcomed me in and open a whole new world for me. Coach Rambo and the other coaches were like a father figure to me, growing up without a father at that time. Coach Everett would pick me up and take me to practice, they would also make sure I got home safe. They were a group of men who would do anything for any kid, and Coach Rambo was the leader of those men who would do anything for any kid. It did not matter where you were from, we had kids from all over the city, it did not matter if you were good or you just wanted to participate. During that time, it was like no kid got left behind we traveled all over the country, and Coach Rambo took every kid; no one was left behind. Those practice days were some of the hardest practice days I ever had as a youth, probably as hard as my college days. When you ran for Mercury you ran to compete, he was real stern, not a hollerer, but when he spoke you listened. I knew that Coach Rambo cared for me, their mentorship from turning a young boy into a man. Mercury Track Club was a mentorship, and a place to heighten your athletic abilities and a very loving and caring environment, that is what Mercury Track Club was to me.
Former USA Olympic Great and son of Creator and Innovator of Mercury Track Club, Mr. Tony Rambo...
Mercury Track Club meant the world to me, it opened my eyes to what track and field could potentially be, it also allowed me to meet men and women that I am still friends with today. It allowed me to travel the country as a youth and meet a lot of people. The track club had an effect on me growing up and made me what I am today.