Willie White, an All-America sprinter at Cal in the late 1950s who became a Bay Area high school coaching legend, died last month at the age of 82.
White, inducted into Cal’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000, finished fourth in the 100-yard dash as a senior in 1960 and was sixth two years before.
He went on to coach the Berkeley High track teams for 20 years, guiding the girls to five state championships (1974, ’76, ’81-83) and the boys to a pair (1980-81).
His athletes — especially the Berkeley relay teams — set national high school records. But in an interview with milesplit.com in 2020, White said that never was the priority.
“We coached winning. If you ran a world record and finished second, you not only didn't win, you didn't really set a world record,” he said.
Cal track and field coach Robyne Johnson, who attended Berkeley High, had praise for her former coach in a statement:
"Mr. Willie White impacted hundreds, dare I say thousands, of athletes during his long, successful career in coaching. He was a hero to us all and he will be sorely missed. I was fortunate to see him last year before the pandemic hit and my deepest condolences go out to his family. We all loved you, Mr. White."
A three-time Pacific Coast Conference or Pac-8 champion in the 100-yard dash, White also won the 1959 PCC title in the 220-yard hurdles.
He helped the Bears set two world records in the sprint medley relay in 1958. Their mark of 3 minutes, 17.6 seconds in the seldom-run race still ranks as Cal’s school record.
White subsequently was assistant track coach and head volleyball coach at Cal State East Bay (1984-96), and coached at Pittsburg High and with the Oakland Parks and Recreation district.
He also coached the Berkeley East Bay Track Club, East Oakland Track Group, and East Oakland Track Gems (EOTG). He continued to work with athletes until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
Before arriving at Cal, White was a star athlete at Jefferson High in Los Angeles, leading the team to the 1956 California state title. He won the 100-yard dash in a state-record time of 9.5 seconds and clocked a winning time of 18,9 to become the first California prep to break 19 seconds. He also ran the fastest led on the winning 880-yard relay team.
White is a several athletic halls of fame. Other honors that have come his way include the City of Berkeley proclaiming July 11, 1981 "Coach Willie White Day,” and the City of Oakland declaring Jun 7, 2014 in "Willie White Day.” The Pacific Association of USA Track and Field honored White in 2016 with its Legacy Coaches Award.
The White family asks that donations be made to the East Oakland Track Gems at https://my.cheddarup.com/c/in-memory-of-coach-e
Cover photo of Willie White courtesy of Cal Athletics
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo