Macombs Dam Park

Joseph Yancey Track and Field

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

In 1936, Joseph James Yancey, Jr. (1910-1991) co-founded the New York Pioneer Track and Field Club. Its interracial track team, which nurtured many Olympic athletes, was the first of its kind in the United States.

Joseph Yancey grew up in Harlem, where his father worked as a funeral director.  As a young boy, Joseph “Ten Yards” Yancey was a star athlete who excelled in running at Saratoga High School and, later, at Virginia State College and New York University. He served as a Captain in the Army in the 369th Regiment, and went on to serve as a Revenue Officer for the Department of the Treasury for 39 years.

In his spare time, Yancey coached a number of athletes who would later become successful runners. Although the Internal Revenue Service offered Yancey several promotions during his career, he refused them, devoting his time to training the children in his track club. Yancey was not only a coach, but a life counselor and father-figure to young men and women of all backgrounds.

In the 1948, 1952, and 1956 Olympics, Yancey served as the head coach of the Jamaican Olympic team. His 1952 group included the “Flying Quartet,” a relay team that ran the 1,600 meter race in 3 minutes and 3.9 seconds, thereby winning the gold medal in world-record time. He also worked with Olympic teams from the Bahamas, British Guiana (now Guyana), and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yancey never had an opportunity to coach an Olympic team for the United States. However, one of the boys he mentored at the Pioneer Club—Larry Ellis, first African-American coach of an Ivy League sport—coached the 1984 U.S. men's track and field team.

Yancey’s many lifetime awards and honors included induction into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and a life member of 369th Veterans Association, Inc. Joseph Yancey died in Teaneck, New Jersey on February 22nd, 1991 and is buried in Hawthorne, New York.

The Joseph Yancey Track and Field is a part of Macombs Dam Park. The park opened in 1899, drawing neighborhood children and aspiring athletes to its extensive recreational facilities, which included baseball fields, tennis courts, and the track. By 2006, the park was displaced by the construction of a new stadium for the New York Yankees.  This state-of-the-art park and 400-meter track was completed in 2010 and is one of several new parks built as remediation for the building of the new stadium.

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