Verona High School girls track coach Gene Leporati is holding a lap of silence at the H.B. Whitehorne track this afternoon to mark the passing of Montclair Kimberley Academy track coach Tom Fleming.
According to a statement from MKA, Fleming died died of an apparent heart attack while coaching his team at a meet on Wednesday, April 19 in Verona. He was 65. Fleming had been at MKA for 18 years, and was both a fourth grade teacher and the varsity boys and girls head coach in cross-country and track and field.
“He was a student of the sport,” said Leporati of Fleming. “He was an advocate of this sport and his athletes.”
After school today, Leporati has asked members of the VHS girls track team to gather at HBW where they will walk in silence to honor Fleming. Leporati said he will also share memories of a coach he has known for decades. Leporati noted that he and Fleming started teaching in Bloomfield at the same time and that, when Fleming owned a running store in Bloomfield, he shopped there. They also collaborated on the Sunset Classic race in Bloomfield for many years.
In its statement, MKA noted that Fleming was a four-time NCAA All-American who became a New Jersey AAU three-mile champion in 1972 and AAU six-mile champion in 1969, 1970, and 1972. As a senior at Paterson State College (now William Paterson University) in 1973, Fleming entered the Boston Marathon, and passed the defending Boston Champion Olavi Soumalaninen of Finland to secure the runner-up spot with a time of 2:17:03, his first of two second-place finishes. Fleming also won the New York City Marathon in 1973 and 1975, participated in the 1976 Olympic Marathon trials, and ran in other marathons in the United States and abroad.
MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith noted Fleming’s contributions to his sport and to his students, “Tom Fleming was a beloved teacher, coach, mentor and friend to many and this is gut wrenching news for the MKA community and for the running and track community as a whole throughout Essex County, New Jersey and the country. Tom’s love for his sport, love for his athletes and love for teaching the next generation of runners was truly remarkable. Most importantly, Tom loved the 4th graders he got to spend every day with and truly was an inspiration to all.”
MKA Headmaster Tom Nammack described Fleming as “an extraordinary teacher, mentor, coach and colleague, whose legacy of excellence will make us better people and strengthen our community and school.”
Added Verona’s Coach Leporati, “We were fierce competitors, but we always respected each other.”