Bloomfield/Montclair, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that “The Oval” in Essex County Brookdale Park will be dedicated as the “Tom Fleming Athletic Complex” in honor of the late Tom Fleming, an iconic professional runner, coach and elementary school teacher. A native of Bloomfield, Mr. Fleming helped make running a popular sport in the 1970s after he won the New York City Marathon twice and finished second in the Boston Marathon twice. The dedication ceremony, which will be open to the public, will be held as follows:
Date: Monday, June 5, 2017
Time: 6 p.m. (promptly)
Place: Essex County Brookdale Park
Tom Fleming Athletic Complex
Watchung Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ
Bellevue Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ
It will be held RAIN or SHINE.
“Tom was recognized throughout the world as one of the greatest long distance runners from America. But in Essex County, he was a beloved coach and elementary school teacher who unselfishly gave his time to help others on the track or in the classroom. His legacy will be the many lives he touched and people – adult runners, high school athletes and elementary school students – who he inspired,” DiVincenzo said. “Naming the track and field in his honor is the most fitting tribute we can give, which was validated by the many letters my office received praising and eulogizing Tom,” he added.
Mr. Fleming passed away suddenly on Wednesday, April 19th while coaching the Montclair Kimberley Academy's track and field team at a meet in Verona. He had been working at MKA as a fourth-grade teacher and varsity track and field and cross country coach since 2000. Five days later, on Monday, April 24th, DiVincenzo submitted a proposal to the Board of Freeholders to rename the track and field. The Freeholders approved the naming ordinance on first reading on Wednesday, May 3rd.
Mr. Fleming was born in Long Branch, N.J., raised in Bloomfield and attended Bloomfield High School, where he began his career as a competitive runner. He continued running as a member of the track team at William Paterson College, now William Paterson University, where he earned status as an All-American. Duringhis senior year at William Paterson College in 1973, Mr. Fleming competed in a track meet on a Saturday and then ran the Boston Marathon two days later, finishing second. Later that same year, he entered the New York City Marathon and finished first.
The win was just one highlight of his successful competitive long-distance running career. He won the New York Marathon twice in 1973 and 1975 when all 26.2 miles of the contest were run in loops of Central Park (the race expanded to the five boroughs of New York in 1976), the Jersey Shore Marathon three times and won marathons in Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington and Cleveland. In addition, he had two second place finished in the Boston Marathon a fifth-place finish in the 1976 Olympic Trials.
After retiring from competitive running, Mr. Fleming made the successful transition to coaching. He was the coach and founder of the Nike Running Room in Bloomfield, which won three consecutive USA National Cross Country Championships in 1990, 1991 and 1992; served as the USA Track and Field national distance coach from 1991 to 1997; was the founder and meet director for the Sunset Classic 5-mile road race (which raises money for special needs children in the Bloomfield Public Schools) in his hometown of Bloomfield for 12 years; and helped Anne Marie Letko and Joe LeMay qualify for the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000, respectively.
He was awarded the United Nations Peace Medal in 1977 and was inducted into the American Road Runners Club of America Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2013 and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., in 2014.
The complex being named in Mr. Fleming’s honor includes a state-of-the-art, quarter mile, rubberized running track and a multi-purpose football and soccer field with a synthetic grass surface. The rubber surface was installed on the running track and the synthetic grass surface was installed on the soccer/football field in 2004; both were updated again in 2014. The complex currently hosts the Essex County Special Olympics’ Spring Games and area high school athletic competitions, and provides recreational and professional runners and walkers with a place to safely train.
The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. At 121.41 acres, Brookdale Park is the third largest park in the Essex County System. Land for the park was purchased between 1928 and 1931.