Alexander J. Woodley, 71; coached Olympic stars

Posted: May 27, 2004

Alexander Jimenez Woodley, 71, who as head coach of the Philadelphia Pioneers track club trained world and Olympic champions and took time to work with at-risk children, died of a heart attack Saturday at his home in West Mount Airy.

For more than 30 years, starting in the early 1960s, Mr. Woodley coached the Philadelphia Pioneer Educational Athletic Development Club, the team's proper name. From 1977 to 1981, the Pioneers were the dominant track club in the nation, winning consecutive USA Track & Field indoor and outdoor team championships. The athletes he trained during that period set at least 10 NCAA, world and Olympic records.

Steve Riddick, whom Sports Illustrated called the fastest human in the world in 1977, was trained by Mr. Woodley.

"I joined the Pioneers in 1974 because of Alex. He was the best coach for sprinters in the nation," Riddick said yesterday.

Mr. Woodley became his coach while he was a student at Norfolk State College, where he set the national collegiate record for the 100-yard dash. In 1976, Riddick won a gold medal in the Olympic 400-meter relay.

Mr. Woodley not only coached track stars, he helped them find jobs or continue their education so they could keep their amateur status for the Olympics, as was then required.

Mr. Woodley was born in Germantown and graduated in 1948 from Northeast Catholic High School, where he was a high jumper. In 1952, he earned a bachelor's degree in education from what was then La Salle College and was a member of its track team.

After graduating, he and Anne Elizabeth Dorsey were married; they had three children before the marriage ended in divorce. He was married to Jean Dicks in 1978; the couple had one daughter.

After working a variety of jobs, Mr. Woodley joined the faculty at Abington High School in 1963 and taught English until retiring in 1996.

"My father was blessed with a talent to inspire athletes, students and his children to achieve the best they could be," daughter Aminta Hawkins Breaux said.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Woodley drew track stars from all over the world to Philadelphia to work with children in the former Model City Program. The summer track-and-field clinics associated with the program reached thousands of children.

Daughter Alicia Jimenez Woodley said her father also was an outstanding cook.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Woodley is survived by sons Alexander and Jeffrey; his mother, Micaela Jimenez Woodley; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; two sisters, two brothers; and his former wife.

Friends may visit at 9 a.m. Saturday at Reformation Lutheran Church, 1215 E. Vernon Rd. in Stenton. A funeral service will be at 10:30 a.m. Burial will be in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd.

Donations may be made to the American Foundation for Negro Affairs National Education and Research Fund, Architects Building, Suite 1200, 117 S. 17th St., Philadelphia 19103.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

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