Chandra Cheeseborough Interview, April 27, 2016

Chandra qualified for three Olympiads, 1976, 1980 (USA boycotted) and 1984. She made history at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles when she became the first woman to win Gold Medals in both the 4×100 and 4×400 relays, which were held less than an hour apart.

Listen to the audio interview here:

Chandra Cheeseborough

Dwight: Chandra Cheesborough, you are the current Tigerbelle coach at Tennessee State University. You came to TSU in 1977, made the Olympic team in 1976, made the 1980 Olympic team but didn’t get to go because of the boycott, and then went to the 84 Olympics where you won a silver medal in the 400 meters, won a gold medal in the 4 X 100 relay and the 4 X 400 relay.

Cheeseborough: Correct. Ohio Valley Conference champions nine times. Five indoor and four outdoor. I’m also the director of men’s and women’s track. Became director of both in 2012.

Dwight: For so long, since it opened in 1912 Tennessee State has done a lot in athletics on a shoestring budget, not a lot of money, and you were the first Tigerbelle to get an athletic scholarship.

Cheeseborough: Yes.

Dwight: The budget today is not the best in the world; how have you managed to keep the Tigerbelles winning?

Cheeseborough: It’s been tough. We try to go out and get student athletes who are going to make a difference right away in our program, which you call the blue chippers. Sometimes you have to get one, one year and have to wait at least two years before you get another one.

Wait until the money is going to trickle back over. Sometimes we get lucky and people send walk-ons. We’ve had good walk-ons and we’ve had bad walk-ons. We just try to do the best we can with the budget we have.

It would help if the women were fully funded and the men were, too. But that’s not my case. We go out and once all the money is gone we have to stop.

Dwight: Why did you want to go into coaching? What made you want to be a coach? You were a star athlete, you could have done many other things and you were a health and physical education major.

Cheeseborough: When I went back home to Jacksonville, Florida, I worked with my high school coach for two years and then I got a head coaching job at one of the local high schools, Robert E. Lee, before I came back here.

In coaching high schoolers, I knew it was another level for me. I knew I had to give back to the sport that had treated me so well. It was definitely in my heart to go back and coach.

Dwight: You have had some Tigerbelles and men track team members win in the OVC but do you see any Olympians from Tennessee State any time soon?

Cheeseborough: I do see that. I think 2020 for Amber Hughes. It is hard making the U.S. Olympic team.

Dwight: When you came to Tennessee State, and we look back over the years, integration had not fully taken place in athletics. Today, things are much different. I guess when you run in the OVC meet Eastern Kentucky, Murray State, Tennessee Martin, Tennessee Tech have people of color running for them.

Cheeseborough: Right.

Dwight: Do you think about the difference race has played?

Cheeseborough: Oh, yes I do, because I feel like … I know everybody has an opportunity to go where they want and run where they want but the reason why we were so successful (in the old days) is  because we only had a couple of places to go. That’s why Coach Temple was able to get the cream of the crop.

Now, it’s spread out and you can go where you want to go, and when we see our sisters and brothers running for another university, we know they are not getting treated fairly on those college campuses and some of them want to come back to us on the back end.

We recruit those same athletes and then they come back to us. And we do take some of them because everybody deserves a second chance, more than a second chance.

It is tough because we don’t get the predominately white athlete at Tennessee State.

Dwight: Have you tried?

Cheeseborough: We tried. It’s difficult. I think if you are not bringing in at least two of them to make them feel like being comfortable, I guess they just don’t want to come.

So, we have tried but have not been successful. I have never had a Caucasian Tigerbelle nor a Caucasian Flying Tiger so ..

Dwight: And you have been coaching for???

Cheeseborough: 23 years.

Dwight: Coach Temple had eased up some by the time you got here…. Youngsters today are different than when you came here.

Cheeseborough: They are. What I see and some things I took from my high school coach was being able to give back to the young people. I don’t see the young people taking that in, being appreciative of the things you do for them. If Coach Temple had put us in a race, whether it was your race or you thought it was your race or not, you gave it 100 percent.

Today, you put some of these young people in a race and they will run it with an attitude. It is so different. They feel like entitlement. Sometimes you have to clean house. I remember last year, when I first took on the men’s program, it was a major problem because I am a disciplinarian and some of them were used to doing the things the way they wanted to do. And telling the coach what they wanted to run.

And when you come on my ship I am going to tell you what you are going to run, and if I am paying you, this is a job. And that is what they don’t understand.

And when you work, your work is giving back to the program. That means going to the track meet every weekend, doing the best you can do and being the best you can be. And we just don’t see that this day and time.

Some want to run one event and then they want to sit down and they’re done for the day. But in order to win a championship you are going to have to buy into doing two or three events.

And this past indoor season on the men’s side we turned the corner. They were one and a half points from second place, we ended up getting third, and we were eight points away from winning.

And that was the closest they have ever been from winning. That was a collaborative of guys doing more than one or two events. And it made the difference. And now, they see that they can win but they see all have to pull together to want to win.

L to R: Chandra Cheeseborough, Ed Temple, Edwina Temple, and Derica Dunn Moody

Dwight: What did you learn most from Coach Temple?

Cheeseborough: I learned a lot from Coach Temple but what sticks most with me is academics, making sure that you get a degree. On the women’s side being a young lady … that just rings in my head today. He was fair and I think I have had that trait.

I’m tough but I am fair. And I think people can identify with that. If you treat people wrong and you are not fair to them, it’s a problem. And a lot of student athletes won’t respect you for that.

Dwight: Has Tennessee State changed a lot since you were in school?

Cheeseborough: We have a lot of new buildings but we need a new facility for basketball and a new track. Our track is over 16 years old. Indoor and outdoor, we need to update these things. In order to get good recruits, we need to make sure our facilities match.

Usually, that is what young people now look at. They look at what you have. They don’t look at history any more. It’s hard to recruit on history because we as a people are not teaching history so why would they pull from that?

One of the things I do with the Tigerbelles and I’ve started with the Flying Tigers, all incoming freshmen have to do a book report and they have to do a book report on a living Tigerbelle. They do a two page book report and they ask, “What was it like being a Tigerbelle or a Flying Tiger at Tennessee State University?”

They have to get up and present it at our Christmas party. That is one way we keep our tradition going.  It’s time for a new track. We can’t just keep painting the lines. We have to go in and resurface it. Approximate cost, $250,000 to $300,000.

The life span of a track is 10 years. Right now it’s not allowing them to turn in fast times and with the surface wearing down it doesn’t make a good training facility. Eventually you will run into problems with injuries with the student athlete and then the other teams will not want to come and race at your facility if they know it is not up to par.