Richard Kerns

In 1966, he was the second fastest man of all time and, in the three decades since, Richard Kerns has shown no sign of slowing down. That has to be good news for hundreds of young Greenville children who want to accomplish something in the world of sports. They receive excellent coaching but also much more when they come into contact with Kerns, whose philosophy is not simply to help young people develop their athletic skills but also to give them a sense of purpose and a new outlook. Kerns is the founder of Greenville’s Quick Striders Track Club, a non-profit organization which trains children from the ages of 8 to 18. “If I look at a kid and I see that I might be able to help him, not just with track but with his studies or other problems he may be having, I’ll take him on,” says Kerns. With his group of volunteer assistants, Coach Kerns is emphatic that running should not be the principal goal for the young people who join the track club, but that they should see their involvement in training and track meets as an important stepping stone in their quest to become good, well educated citizens. “We teach them about self-esteem and self-worth and that they are somebody and they can make a difference, ” he says. Members of the club are required to maintain good grades in school, to show respect for other people, and to attend church, as well as participate regularly in the sporting activities of the Quick Striders. For Kerns, the greatest reward of this work is to see young people overcome their disadvantages to acquire a college education. This program has helped many youths to obtain college scholarships. If sporting achievements are secondary to Kerns, they are nevertheless impressive, as one might expect from a first class coach. Kerns himself was one of the greatest track athletes of his day. Born in Greenville, he ran track and played football for Sterling High School, earning a scholarship to Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. He was a college track sensation, sweeping all before him until he came up against Bob Hayes, of Florida A and M University. “That Hayes was a miracle,” recalls Kerns, “only man I never did beat.” Hayes later played professional football with the Dallas Cowboys, a team which had also offered Kerns a contract. Kerns though was drafted into the US Army and was stationed in Germany. When the Army realized that it had a track star, Kerns became a member of the Special Service Track and Field Team. In 1966, he competed in Nuremburg, Germany. In this track event, he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.2 seconds, just one-tenth of a second slower than the world record held by none other than Bob Hayes. Returning to Greenville after military service, Kerns became an investigator for Legal Services Agency of Western Carolina. Aware that his sporting prowess had provided him with the means to secure a college education and a good job, Kerns quickly decided that he could help other follow the same path. In the late 1970s, he started taking small groups of children to track meets at Furman University. Coached by Kerns, many of these young men and women went all the way to the nationals of the Junior Olympics. Shortly afterwards, he founded the Greenville Quick Striders Track Team. Kerns has received numerous awards for his services to young people, including a citizenship award for commitment to the youth of Greenville in 1991 and the Black Heritage Award for Community Service a year later.