Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that he is proposing an ordinance to dedicate “The Oval” in Essex County Brookdale Park in Bloomfield and Montclair as the “Essex County Tom Fleming Athletic Complex” in honor of the late Tom Fleming, an iconic professional runner and coach. The complex includes a state-of-the-art, quarter mile, rubberized running track and a multi-purpose football and soccer field with a synthetic grass surface. Mr. Fleming was a two-time winner of the New York Marathon and finished second in the Boston Marathon twice. The ordinance was submitted to the Board of Chosen Freeholders for its consideration.
“Tom reached the pinnacle of being a professional runner. In the 1970s, his name was synonymous with long distance running. He was an icon in the sport that he loved and helped make long distance running more popular and mainstream. He was a very dear friend who inspired people of all ages with his accomplishments, and enjoyed coaching and mentoring young athletes,” DiVincenzo said. “Naming the complex will be a fitting tribute that will keep Tom’s legacy alive and hopefully inspire future generations to follow in his footsteps,” he added.
Mr. Fleming passed away suddenly on Wednesday, April 19, 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.
He 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. During his 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.
A synthetic rubber surface was installed on the running track and a synthetic grass surface was installed on the soccer/football field in 2004, and they 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.