Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Museum’s Facebook page
Story by Maria de Guzman / Contributing Writer
Tennessee State Museum hosted a free screening of the sports documentary, “Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles,” Saturday afternoon. The museum’s theater was a bustling, diverse room of all ages, races and genders. Both former and current Tennessee State University students sat in their seats, eager to watch a famous piece of their school’s history told for the world.
The film tells the story of TSU’s legendary track and field coach Ed Temple and a group of 40 African American female athletes, nicknamed the Tigerbelles. Temple and the Tigerbelles broke the color barrier of the Olympics during the Jim Crow era, taking home 23 medals, 16 of them gold, while also earning their college degrees. Among the famous Tigerbelles is legendary sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who is regarded today as one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century.
The program began with a panel discussion moderated by former TSU athletics director and current Criminal Court Clerk of Davidson County Howard Gentry, who also appeared in the documentary. The two-person panel included the film’s director and MTSU professor, Tom Neff, and Olympic gold medal winner Chandra Cheeseborough.
Gentry and Cheeseborough both exchanged fond stories about Temple, and described the brutal life of a student athlete. When asked about Temple’s character, Cheeseborough described him as a “father figure”.
“He was tough,” she said of her former coach. “He was fair. What you see is what you get.”
The pair also remembered practicing two to three times a day, waking up early in the morning and training in the blazing afternoon heat. Gentry explained the unfair treatment that women in sports had to endure. Hearing Gentry and Cheeseborough recount their experiences was an interesting introduction to the documentary’s subject.
After the panel discussion, the audience were treated to the anticipated documentary, where they laughed along to Ed Temple’s storytelling and felt an immense sense of pride in TSU’s legacy.
The documentary itself was a traditional athlete’s story of overcoming your own self-doubt and everyone’s doubt in you through hard work and support from the people around you. The father figure in Temple shined through, his sharp and boisterous voice recounting his days with his athletes as if they were his own daughters. All of his former athletes featured in the documentary looked back on Temple in fondness, much like Gentry and Cheeseborough did. They were taught to get their education while also being focused on the track.
The film didn’t shy away from the difficult reality that these women had to go through during the Jim Crow era. Not only did they have to go through the struggle of being African American, but they also had to deal with prejudices of being a female athlete, which was considered “unwoman-like”.
Segregation and prejudices didn’t stop Temple, and he didn’t let those obstacles stop his Tigerbelles either.
While Ed Temple was featured in the documentary, he passed away during the filming of the documentary back in 2016. His legacy and contributions to American sports lives on not just in this documentary, but in the hearts and stories of those who knew him well.
To learn more about the film, visit the official “Mr. Temple and the Tigerbelles” website at tigerbellesmovie.com.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Mamie Lomax, email email@example.com.
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