Lincoln track added to Hall of Fame

Respect comes in a lot of forms.

One way is when people react to beating your “C” team like they beat your first-stringers.

Another way is how people may go out of their way to avoid scheduling track meets with you.

And if you’re really lucky, it comes in the form of being added to something like the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

All of these examples apply to the Lincoln University track and field program, and the last on that list came Sunday.

While the bulk of some gaudy numbers have been put up by the women’s squad, the entire program was recognized in a ceremony at Capitol Plaza Hotel.

“I’m pleased that the state of Missouri has finally started to recognize the program at Lincoln University,” Lincoln coach Victor Thomas said. “As I’ve said over the years, we’re one of the best programs and we’re unknown, so being recognized in this manner is a tremendous thing for the kids and athletes over the past 12 or 13 years.”

It didn’t take long for Thomas, who is in his 12th season as head coach, to make an impact on the program. In his second season, the Lincoln women won the first of five straight titles at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

That’s part of a whopping 10 national titles for the Lincoln women between the indoor and outdoor seasons, and they’ve finished second five additional times.

And the men have gotten in on the success, too, winning several individual national titles and finishing second as a team at last year’s Outdoor Championships.

“When I first came here, I looked at the program and saw you didn’t need numbers to win, you just needed quality,” Thomas said. “So I started to try recruiting kids who were ignored or neglected by the big programs. These were kids who had talent, it just needed to be developed.”

To the point where they’re getting that aforementioned respect. For example, take the women’s 4x400-meter relay in Saturday’s Billiken Invitational hosted by Saint Louis University.

“We went to SLU and I ran our ‘C’ 4x4 team and SLU beat us,” Thomas said. “You should have seen the jubilation and excitement (from SLU). That was my third-string 4-by-4, but they didn’t know. Maybe the coach knew. But to them, that was a big one for them.”

With more than 150 athletes earning All-American honors for Lincoln under Thomas, the Blue Tigers have everyone’s attention. Which brings up the scheduling problems mentioned earlier.

“With the girls team especially, no matter where we go, there is a fear about Lincoln University,” Thomas said. “It has reached the stage where a couple big schools don’t invite us anymore.

“I remember the coach at Mizzou four or five years ago finally came clean with me. There’s a meet at Mizzou every year where they invite four or five teams and they never invite Lincoln. I was like, ‘We’re just down the road, it would save me a lot of money for you to invite us.’ He finally came clean — ‘How would it look to the alumni and sponsors if that little school down the road came and beat us?’

“... Then I realized, that’s a good thing. That’s what I try to preach to the kids. ... You have the advantage, because they’re already scared of you. Believe it, every school is this part of the hemisphere is scared of us.”

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