Tim Hickey (Tanzania) leaves behind a great legacy in the world of track and field

A note from George Brose (Tanzania 1965-67)


“Tim Hickey passed away.  He was a Tanzania Peace Corps (1965-67). A very respected track and field coach and taught 30 years in Philadelphia public schools. Probably responsible for over 40 inner city girls getting college scholarships. Tim was also director of the high school division of the Penn Relays for many years.”


Coach Hickey and Swenson Girls track team


By Napoleon F. Kingcade

For more than three decades, Tim Hickey was a nationally known figure in the world of track and field. He took the William Penn High girls track program and built them into a national powerhouse. Hickey died June 24 at the age of 80.

Born and raised in Indiana, Hickey participated in track programs at Parker High School and Ball State University. After he graduated from college, he spent three years in the Peace Corps in South Africa, where he coached the Tanzanian Women’s National track team in 1967 and coached the women’s team in the African Games. During that tournament, his team won four silver medals.

According to Hickey, the Tanzanian Women’s National team won on pure talent, having had no track to train on or no equipment to use. The women’s team trained hard and had the determination to win, despite the lack of equipment, he said.

Tim Hickey (Tanzania 1965-67)

Upon his return to the United States, Hickey was determined to build a girls track team.  After being hired as a math teacher at Vaux Middle School, Hickey noticed there was no girls track team at the school. When he tried to start one, he was denied by the administration. Instead of complaining about it, Hickey went on to start his own club — Klub Keystone — a boys and girls track team that would compete across the country.

In 1972, Hickey started teaching at William Penn High School, an all-girls school at located near Broad and Girard Avenue. In his first year, he organized a group  of talented runners and formed a championship track team. In 1979, Hickey put together a talented 4 x 800 relay team. His relay team competed in the Penn Relays. The William Penn girls broke the national scholastic record with a blazing time of 8:59.7. They defeated number one rival Brooklyn Tech. Four years later, William Penn started a 20-year regular season unbeaten streak that lasted until 2003.

When Hickey began coaching at the school, there was no track field to hold practices,  so he had his team run sprints around the school’s perimeter. Hickey also had no budget to purchase uniforms or money to transport his team to meets out of the state. The principal of the school offered no financial support.

Coach Tim Hickey

“I had a principal who actually told me I was a failure as a coach because I hadn’t taught my girls how to lose,” Hickey said. “She wouldn’t give us the ok to go to meets or anywhere else. The only way we would go to meets was to climb over the fence. We also had to do it to go to the Penn Relays. So, for 15 years, we were sneaking out of the school and climbing over the fence.”

Despite his early struggles, Hickey refused to be held back. He cared a lot for his girls. As a way to raise money for the team, he held a series of cookie sales. He was soon able to buy a van to take the team to track meets. Hickey and his William Penn team began to win many championships.

From 1972 to 2003, the William Penn girls track team won more than 45 Public League indoor and outdoor track championships. They also won several Public League cross-country titles. The William Penn teams were also victorious at the Penn Relays, winning medals for 20 consecutive years. During that time, Hickey had the greatest high school female track team in Pennsylvania.

Hickey with Angel Patterson

Over the course of three decades, Hickey had coached some of the most talented female runners in the state of Pennsylvania. One of his best was Angel Patterson. During her high school career, Patterson won 10 different individual events — she was a master in all of them.

However, the most exciting moment in Patterson’s high school track career was when she ran the anchor leg at the 1996 Penn Relays. Faced with the possibility of losing to the Jamaicans, Patterson and the William Penn girls were determined to win the 4x 400 relay race and end Jamaica’s winning streak.

During the final lap, the William Penn girls were sitting in third place. However, after Angel Patterson received the baton everything changed. In a burst of energy, Patterson had made up a chunk of yards. Before she made her final turn, Patterson took over first place. As she took control of the race, the crowd rose to their feet. In a matter of seconds, Patterson was sprinting down the home stretch towards the finish line, Patterson was able to seal the deal and crossed the finish line with an incredible 53.9 split. She beat her Jamaican opponent by two seconds.

Before she collapsed on the ground, Patterson was mobbed by her teammates. The victory marked the first time in recent years that an American school had beaten a Jamaican team at the Penn Relays.

In 1997, Patterson ran the anchor leg again and was victorious at the Penn Relays. After graduation, she attended the University of Texas and became a leadoff sprinter for the Lady Longhorns. During her four years at Univ. of Texas, Patterson helped win a great number of races at the Penn Relays. In 2018, Patterson was inducted into the Penn Relays Wall of Fame.

Despite his success, Hickey could never forget the tragedy of his former runner, 17-year-old Penn H.S. senior Shillie Turner. Hickey believed Turner was another talented athlete destined for greatness.

Hickey with the late Shillie Turner.

On January 15, 1993,  at a regional meet in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Turner had just ran a record time in an 800-meter race, an impressive 2 minutes and 15.3 seconds in her event. According to Hickey, Turner had another track meet set for January 18 on King Day. “She had been filing out college applications and training beautifully,” Hickey said during a newspaper interview. According to Hickey, Turner had an offer to attend Clemson University and was scheduled to take her SATs. But on January 18, Turner was reported missing.

Hickey said Turner never missed a track meet before. However, after four weeks, a $6,000 reward was raised by her schoolmates asking for information about the track runner’s whereabouts. Meantime, Southwest Detectives took statements from Shillie Turner’s mother, Vivian King. Turner’s mother told detectives she had spoken to Shillie on the phone that Sunday and was told Shillie was going to a party at the Ben Franklin Hotel with her teammates.

After an extensive investigation, police discovered Shillie’s mother had been lying about her whereabouts and had eventually confessed that she had murdered her daughter.

After Hickey retired from coaching in 2003, he still served as a volunteer assistant track coach.  He helped the Swenson girls track team capture the 2013 Pennsylvania Class AA State Track and Field Outdoor Championship. Hickey also played a key role in Swenson’s girls 4x 400 relay team’s Philadelphia Area Girls championship win at the 2013 Penn Relays.  The Swenson girls won that event with a time of 3:46.13.

Hickey then took over at Paul Robeson High School for track coach Walter Pegues while Pegues took a leave of absence to deal with a family matter, just as everyone thought he was done coaching. While there, Hickey helped their girls track team capture the District 12 title.  The team also won the 2014 Public League Outdoor Championship.

In 2016, Hickey was inducted into the Amory Coaches Hall of Fame, as well as the National High School Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2021.


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