With the Olympics in Sochi dominating the news this week, now would be a good time to remember our chalkboard champions who were also Olympic athletes. One such educator is Andre Lamar Phillips, a track and field athlete who is best known for earning a gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1988 Olympic Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Andre was born on September 5, 1959, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a teenager, he attended Silver Creek High School in San Jose, California. As a student there, the 6’2″, 185-pound athlete won the CIF California State Meet in the 300 low hurdles in 1977, the year he graduated. Andre attended first San Jose Junior College, and then the University of California at Los Angeles. While there, he won the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships in 1981, the year he graduated.
In 1983, the intrepid Andre finished fifth in the 400-meter hurdles at the first-ever World Athletics Championships. In 1985, he won his only US National Championship title. He garnered the IAAF World Cup the same year. Despite these wins, Andre spent most of his career in the shadow of his idol, Edwin Moses, frequently coming in second during Edwin’s unparallelled winning streak. He managed to beat Edwin once, though, at the 1988 Olympic Games. There Andre ran his personal best, 47.19, to win a gold medal, beating second-place Amadou Dia Ba from Senegal by just 0.04 of a second. Although Edwin ran his fastest Olympic final in that match, he finished third. Andre’s winthat day set an Olympic record, and at the time, was considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. In 2009, this chalkboard champion was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
After he retired as an athlete, Andre pursued a career in education. He worked as a substitute teacher in Stockton while he completing the requirements for his teaching credential. Then he taught special education at Stagg High for eight years. He said he wanted to be a role model for kids, especially ninth graders, who needed help transitioning from elementary to high school. “I try to instill and motivate these kids that it’s important to get their education,” Andre once said. “Many don’t see the benefits of it their freshman and sophomore years. They get so behind with their credits that by the time they wake up their junior year, they think, ‘What can I do?’ My challenge is to motivate them early.”
Andre Lamar Phillips: Olympic gold medalist and chalkboard champion.