Bob Parks, who led Eastern Michigan track and cross country to national titles, dies at 90

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Bob Parks, the most successful coach in Eastern Michigan coach, in any sports, who guided the men's track-and-field and cross-country programs to six national championships and 31 Mid-American Conference titles and was named MAC coach of the year 22 times, has died.

Parks died Wednesday. He was 90.

He ran at Eastern Michigan from 1951-55, and returned to coach the teams in 1967. He retired in 2001.

Bob Parks was Eastern Michigan's longtime track and field and cross country coach.

"We are saddened by the loss of our father," said Sue Parks, one of Parks' four children, and current director of Eastern Michigan's cross-country and track-and-field program. "He touched countless lives and was a father figure and an inspiration to so many. He was as competitive as anyone but more importantly, he always wanted to ensure that his athletes were ready for the challenges of life when they left his program.

"He will long be remembered for his positive impact and the way that he treated people

"We will all carry his passion, strength and fighting spirit with us."

Parks won six NAIA and NCAA team championships, and coached 286 individual conference champions and 31 NAIA and NCAA national champions. He coached more than 110 All-Americans, and was national coach of the year once and regional coach of the year nine times.

He also coached at least one athlete who compete in every Olympics from 1968 through 2012, including 1976 gold-medalist Hasely Crawford (110 meters), 2000 silver-medalists Clement Chukwu and Nduka Awazie (4x400) and 1984 bronze-medalist Earl Jones (800m).

Parks is a member of the Eastern Michigan Athletics Hall of Fame — the school's indoor and outdoor tracks are named after him — as well as the Drake Relays Hall of Fame. He was enshrined in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000, and the MAC Hall of Fame in 2015. Parks was on the ballot for the 2021 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame class.

Eastern Michigan won the 1970 NAIA and NCAA Division II national championships, then moved to the MAC and Division I in 1972. In Division 1, Parks led Eastern Michigan to the NCAAs seven times, with a sixth-place finish in 1974.

In track, his dual-meet record was 162-14-1; in cross country, it was 132-24-1.

"The entire Eastern Michigan athletics family is heartbroken by the news of Bob's passing," athletic director Scott Wetherbee said. "It is impossible to summarize the legacy of Coach Parks and the impact that he has made on our institution in just one statement. Bob Parks is one of the finest examples of a champion that this university has ever seen, not only in his field of competition, where he built our cross-country and track-and-field programs into two of the very best in all of intercollegiate athletics, but outside of his sports, as well. Thousands of student-athletes, coaches, staff members, and individuals in the Ypsilanti community were positively impacted by his dedication to Eastern Michigan.

"Many individuals leave a mark on the places they go — few fundamentally change them for the better. Bob Parks is one of those few, and Eastern Michigan University will never fail to recognize him for his achievements and contributions to our department."

Parks was born in Pittsburgh, but was raised in Howell. He played football, basketball, baseball and ran track at Howell High School, winning a state championship in the 440. At Eastern Michigan, which then was Michigan Normal College, he was a conference champion in the 880 and part of a school-record mile relay.

Parks coached at Ferndale, DeWitt and Redford Thurston high schools, and was on Western Michigan's staff from 1961-67, helping guide Western to two NCAA Division I cross-country titles.

Parks, who in retirement split time between White Lake, Michigan, and Naples, Florida, was preceded in death by wife Pat and son Steve, and is survived by children Sue, Nancy and Scott.

A celebration of life will be held later this year, his family announced.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the "Bob Parks Track Dedication Fund."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984