Freddie Lee Hendricks, a legendary Baltimore track coach who led the Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School team to nearly 30 state, city and regional championships, died of pulmonary kidney failure Jan. 27 at a Gilchrist hospice center in Baltimore. He was 81.
Mr. Hendricks, who taught physical education at Mervo for 36 years, was a master of improvisation as a track coach without a track. Despite the absence of a track at the Northeast Baltimore school, Mr. Hendricks molded the team into a powerhouse. Sprinters ran hills behind the school and hurdles in the hallway. Long-distance runners ran around nearby Lake Montebello.
When the school finally built a football and track stadium it was named the Art Modell Field at Freddie Hendricks Sports Complex.
He coached Olympians such as James Carter, a 1996 graduate who finished fourth in the 400 hurdles at the 2000 Olympic Games. Mr. Hendricks traveled to Australia to watch him compete. He also coached 2000 Olympic gold medalist Bernard Williams. Several of his other former students went on to become teachers, principals and track coaches themselves.
Affectionately nicknamed “Butter” for his smooth personality, Mr. Hendricks was more than a coach to many students; he was a father figure and a friend referred to as “Pops.” Students, including Mayor Brandon Scott, credit Mr. Hendricks for changing their lives.
“This city is different because of Coach Hendricks,” said Mr. Scott, a Mervo alumnus who ran the mile, 2-mile, 4x800 and steeplechase races in high school.
“He was producing young men, young women, that were going to grow to be the best version of themselves. Track was the tool in which he did that. And all of us are who we are today because of that,” Mr. Scott said of the city’s current leaders.
Born Sept. 26, 1941, in Henderson, North Carolina, Mr. Hendricks was the eldest of eight siblings and the son of Otis Lee Hendricks, a Bethlehem Steel worker, and Annie Belle Hendricks, a homemaker. The family moved to Baltimore in 1952 when Mr. Hendricks was a teenager and lived on Lemmon Street and then Presstman Street.
He played football, golfed and wrestled at Carver Vocational Technical High School, graduating in 1959. Mr. Hendricks continued to wrestle at what is now Morgan State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1966. Mr. Hendricks served in the Army from 1966 to 1968 and earned two master’s degrees from Morgan State.
Although he only ran intramural ran track himself, Mr. Hendricks stepped up in 1972 to lead Mervo’s newly created program and its 11 student-athletes. He previously coached the Mustangs’ junior varsity football team and officiated wrestling matches.
Over the years Mr. Hendricks grew the team into a dominant force. Vaughn Devaughn, Mervo’s current track and field coach, joined the team in 1994 and ran hurdles in four state championships. Hendricks’ practices were so competitive that track meets felt easy, Mr. Devaughn said.
“We were probably one of the best teams up and down the East Coast,” Mr. Devaughn said. “When we went to a track meet it was like we wanted to put on a show. But at the same time, Coach Hendricks always kept us humble. We remain humble because he was humble.”
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Mr. Hendricks commanded respect without ever raising his voice. Athletes at all skill levels felt welcome on the team, whether they were slow or all-state stars. He gave life lessons “that we desperately needed at the time,” Mr. Devaughn said.
Under Mr. Hendricks’ leadership, Mervo won seven Maryland Scholastic Association titles and, when the school joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in 1993, it won three outdoor state crowns and an indoor state championship in 1997. But Mr. Hendricks rarely talked about his success.
“I feel like we were his ultimate trophies — his athletes,” Mr. Devaughn said.
Mr. Hendricks created a family among each team, where track practice was the best part of a student’s day, Mr. Scott said. And after practice, athletes had to attend CollegeBound prep classes, even as freshmen.
A teenage Scott, frustrated with always having to drive his teammates home at the day’s end, left without them after one practice, he said. Mr. Hendricks called Mr. Scott into his office the next day.
“He said, ‘That’s not what happens for leaders. Leaders sacrifice. You got to do what’s best for the group and not for you,’” Mr. Scott said. “That’s why I am that way.”
Mr. Hendricks retired from teaching in 2004. He was as a referee for numerous sports and worked as the state coordinator for track and field for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in retirement. Mr. Hendricks attended several Olympics and World Games. He was a member of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity.
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He loved to golf and travel with Pamela Crawford, his partner. The couple met working at the Johns Hopkins University summer camp in 1992 and have a daughter, Shannon Hendricks, of Baltimore.
Mr. Hendricks was married to Joan Hendricks for 32 years until her death in 1991. They have a son, Sean Hendricks, of Ashburn, Virginia, and a daughter, Kim Hendricks, of Baltimore.
“As a dad, he was about as perfect as you can get,” Sean Hendricks said. “It was the best balance of love and discipline that you can have. He was so giving, had the right amount of guidance, and was really an extraordinary leader that you wanted to follow in his footsteps,”
Along with Mervo’s track being named in his honor, there is a mural of Mr. Hendricks painted in the gym.
“He was a true legend,” Ms. Crawford said.
In addition to his partner and children, Mr. Hendricks is survived by two granddaughters, Ashley and Brittany Pittman, of Baltimore, and four siblings, James, of Owings Mills, George, of Randallstown, Joan, of Pikesville, and Jerome Hendricks, of Severn. He was preceded in death by his wife, Joan, and siblings Larry, Carlton and Effie Hendricks, and half brother Clarence Shearin Sr.
A viewing will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Services at 8728 Liberty Road in Randallstown. The family will receive friends from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. next Monday in Gilliam Hall at the Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University, at 2201 Argonne Drive in Baltimore. Interment will follow at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery.