Wayne Whigham, a sprinter on Tennessee track teams from 1969-72 and one of the first black athletes recruited at the University of Tennessee, died Thursday in Silver Spring, Md. He was 63.
Mr. Whigham ran under coaches Chuck Rohe and Stan Huntsman during a time when the Vols won SEC titles in seven of eight years in indoor and outdoor track.
“He was charismatic, with a street-smart way about him,” teammate Audry Hardy (1969-71) said. “He could light up a room.
“There was a time, maybe in his sophomore season, that he was injured and had a great deal of spare time on his hands and wasn’t working hard. His mother came to see him and said he’d better not come home. It was a private conversation, but she may have used some words we can’t repeat. Wayne got the idea he had to be serious.”
Mr. Whigham was on the 800-meter relay team (running third with Rick Bowers, Abe Henderson, and Darwin Bond) that set an varsity indoor record with a time of 1 minute, 30.1 seconds, according to Tennessee record books. His best marks were 9.5 seconds in the 100 and 21.5 in the 220.
He won the Will Pritchett Award in 1972 as the “Most Dedicated Senior.”
“He locked me in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus for about 30 minutes as our track team headed over the mountains for an indoor meet with Duke and North Carolina,” said teammate Denis Flood (1971). “I had to run against two great runners (Olympian Bob Wheeler and Tony Waldrup). He told me I wasn’t going to beat them anyway. So it really didn’t matter. And he was right.”
A native of Washington, D.C., Mr. Whigham served as director of the Appeals/Transfer team for the Montgomery County School System in Rockville, Md., working his way up the system ladder, starting as a teacher.
“He knew that getting a scholarship and being on the track team gave him an opportunity he might not otherwise have had,” said teammate Jeff Gabel (1966-70), an All-American triple jumper and Mr. Whigham’s first roommate at Tennessee. “He worked with troubled kids, keeping them on the straight and narrow.
“His wife, Mary Beth, was the ‘apple of his life.’ His son, Chris, was very important to him, too.”
He is survived by his wife, Mary Beth Waits, a son, Christopher Whigham, and was the adoptive father of Christian Childs and Jamison Macauley.
Viewing will be Wednesday from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Collins Funeral Home, 500 University Blvd. West, in Silver Spring. Funeral services will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 608 North Horners Lane, in Rockville, Md. Interment will be at Gate of Heaven Cemetery.
Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the Montgomery County Education Fund (mark the memo line “Wayne Whigham Memorial Fund”), 850 Hungerford Drive, Room 149, Rockville, Md., 20850.
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.