He coached dozens of champions at the city, state and national level. He coached future Olympians. He even coached a Mayor.
Freddie Hendricks would be the last person to discuss his accomplishments during his iconic track and field coaching career. The former Mervo High coach passed away last Friday from pulmonary kidney failure. He was 81.
“Mr. Hendricks truly ran his race and did an amazing job,” said longtime coach Jerry Molyneaux, who’s in his second stint as Western cross country and track coach and was also athletic director and cross country and track coach at now-defunct Northwestern. “He’s somebody that is really going to be truly missed around this state.”
Hendricks coached track at Mervo, which once was in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, from 1972 to 2003. The Mustangs won 11 boys outdoor track city titles, eight boys indoor city track championships, seven Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA) titles, three outdoor and an indoor state championship, and several city cross country titles.
Many of those track championships came without an on-campus track for Mervo to practice on. Hendricks took his squads to City, Herring Run Park, Lake Montebello and his alma-mater, Morgan State University.
The hallways inside the Hillen Road school often served as training grounds during the winter indoor season.
“The only comparison is those great Dunbar teams under Bob Wade winning all those championships and not having a gym,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a 2002 Mervo graduate who ran cross country and was a middle distance runner in track for Hendricks. “It was Coach’s belief in our own ability when we didn’t have the basic thing you need.”
A mural of Hendricks adorns a wall on a stairway outside of the school’s gymnasium. Fifty years after Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School opened its doors, the Freddie Hendricks Complex, featuring a six-lane track, field events area, and tennis courts was opened, along with a turf field.
According to Vaughn DeVaughn and Garfield Thompson, former Hendricks’ performers who followed him as Mustangs coach, an official ceremony was never held.
Not that Hendricks wanted the attention.
“He never bragged about being Mervo coach,” said Thompson, who spent six years as Hendricks’ successor and recently became track coach at Archbishop Curley. “You just kind of got to know the man who was the mentor, the father figure to so many people.”
“I don’t become who I am without him. This is a hard time because he meant so much to thousands of kids,” said James Carter, a 1996 Mervo graduate and standout track performer. “I’m not just talking about track kids, you’re talking kids that he had for PE class, summer track. He made every attempt to help with whatever was needed.”
Carter, who was part of Mervo’s 400 and 1,600-meter relay team that finished third in the Championship of America final at the 1994 Penn Relays in Philadelphia, became the first product of a Baltimore area high school to compete in an Olympic track and field event since 1972. He placed fourth in the 400-meter hurdles in the 2000 Sydney Summer Games.
Carter, who Hendricks saw compete in Sydney, remembered his old high school and club coach provided “motivation,” in a local story.
“They asked what my goals are moving forward and I said I am trying to make the Olympic team. He (Hendricks) told the newspaper, ‘I don’t know if he’s going to be ready by 2000, but for sure in 2004,” said Carter. “Now, I didn’t know if he did this purposely, because he was always a voice of reason.”
Hendricks, who coached another Olympian, Bernard Williams (Carver Vo-Tech) at the Ed Waters Track Club, rarely raised his voice.
He commanded respect without demanding it.
To the Mervo track family, he was “Butter.”
“He wasn’t a coach that was in your face, he would just bring you over and talk to you, and you knew that you had to get better,” said DeVaughn, a star hurler who graduated in 1997. “That’s what we loved about him. He was just smooth.”
Scott remembered during his junior outdoor season being frustrated with some of his teammates, who he regularly drove home. He decided to leave them following a practice.
The next morning, Hendricks brought Scott into his office.
“I was like, ‘why do I have to take people home,’ and Coach said that’s how it is when you’re a leader. You got to look out for everyone else for your own comfort,” said Scott. “He taught us to be accountable.”
When the first Baltimore City indoor track championship meet took place in 1997 at the Fifth Regiment Armory, Hendricks handled every detail, even the scoring.
“I just wanted everything to go right so we can do it again next year and start a tradition,” he said in an article.
Hendricks, a Carver Vo-Tech grad who was a wrestling referee for two decades, wanted his athletes to excel beyond the track once they graduated from Mervo.
“What coach cared about more than anything is what kind of young man, what kind of young woman you grow up to be,” said Scott, who graduated St. Mary’s College in 2006 who became the 52nd Mayor of Baltimore City after serving as City Council President (2019) and a councilman (elected in 2011). " He didn’t care if you ran in college, or went to the Olympics, he cared about getting an education, he cared about you having a plan for how you’re going to work and provide for your family after you left him.”
“Coach wanted us to play a role in our communities. He’d said when you finish college, come back and do something positive in your community,” said Thompson, who’s the executive director of McKim Center and McKim Community Association. “We’ve had so many police officers who came out of our program. It was instilled in us.”
Last Monday evening, about 70 former performers gathered on the track Hendricks was finally able to see his team practice and compete on before he retired.
The group ran a bell lap (last lap in a relay or distance run) in his memory.
“We hear the word “G.O.A.T,” great person, great man, legend, giant, those words get thrown around these days too often,” said Scott. “When you think about a man like Coach and what he accomplished through his vision…we’re talking about a man who literally changed the outlook of young people in Baltimore. He saved thousands of lives, including my own.”
A viewing for Hendricks will be held Sunday Feb. 11 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home in Randallstown. The wake and funeral will be Monday Feb. 12 at Morgan State’s Murphy Fine Arts Center at 9:30 a.m.