1990 TRACK & FIELD INDUCTEE
Maxie Parks has always loved the outdoors. Born in 1951, the first ten years of his life were spent in a very small town of Aubrey, Arkansas. “Growing up in the country, we didn’t have a lot of sports programs, so we would do things like race each other all the time down the dirt roads or run around in the fields,” stated Maxie. The man who would later go on to excel in sports, winning a gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games, feels blessed with his upbringing and the good life growing up in rural Arkansas.
When Maxie was nine, his mother, Ruby, decided to sell the land that they were living on and move to Fresno where two of her sisters lived. The Parks family loved their new hometown. It was in Fresno that organized sports attracted Maxie. “My personal start in competitive athletics was when I was watching Olympic coverage on TV, way back in the l1960s and they were talking about Rafer Johnson, and the thing that really caught me was the commentator was saying how Rafer was from Kingsburg, California and attending UCLA. He was sure a hero to me.” In grade school, Maxie played baseball, basketball, and football. At Washington Union High School, he was a multi-sport athlete, gaining attention for football and track. “One day, just as football season was ending, one of my coaches, Bill Griffen (who was also the wrestling coach) told me, “Maxie, I really think you should come out for wrestling as I think it would help you in your conditioning for football and track. It would help with endurance and strength training for your future in those sports…’ I went ahead and went out for wrestling instead of basketball that year, and that decision really worked out well for me.” Maxie wrestled in the 154-pound weight class in his junior year.
The workouts were incredible, Maxie got into great shape, and won the North Sequoia League Championship. In his senior year, Maxie played football and ran track, as both sports were considered his best chance to get a college scholarship. WU track coach, John Pearson, was concerned that Maxie would get injured if he wrestled. “He was worried that I might miss a track scholarship opportunity,” says Maxie, “Coach knew about my goal from way back to be an Olympian. I always kept that dream. That was my goal. There were only two people that I told my dream to: my mom and Coach Pearson.” When Maxie graduated, he didn’t get scholarship offers from the Division I schools, but that did not deter him. He enrolled at Fresno City College with football and track. He was an All-League performer for Claire Slaughter’s Rams as a wide receiver. “I knew I could do better if I worked under Coach Slaughter and his assistants, Fred Bartells, Billy Wayte, and Bill Musick. Keith Siemens was an outstanding quarterback for the Rams and we had a good rapport on where the ball and the receiver would meet on the routes.”
FCC coach Bob Fries also helped Maxie a great deal in his track pursuits. Maxie was the California State Champion in the 400 meters (47.2 seconds) when UCLA offered him a full scholarship. UCLA Coach Dick Vermeil also wanted Maxie to play football for the Bruins, but Maxie decided that his priority would be to keep after his goal. By then, he had three people in on his dream; his mom, coach Pearson, and his new Wife, Lovern. Lovern, a former track athlete, was a great encouragement for Maxie as his future started to unfold.
At UCLA, Maxie was a world class quarter-miler and ranked in the top five in the world in 1976, 1977, and 1978. In 1976, he had the best 400-meter time in the world at 44.82 seconds. Maxie was the USATF 400-meter champion in 1976 and 1978. He won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials championship in 1976. In the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Maxie was edged out of a medal in the 400-meter race. It was a major disappointment for the young star, but as the anchor of the 4 x 400-meter relay race, Maxie joined Herman Frazier, Benjamin Brown, and Fred Newhouse, and took the gold medal in 2:58.65 seconds. “I was thinking, “You did it! You finally did it, you got there, you got what you set up sixteen years ago.. Lovern cried, coach Pearson cried, so many of us cried tears of joy.
“The playing of the national anthem was just amazing. It was a beautiful moment, even better than in my dreams. You feel so proud and you have such a profound love of your country.” Maxie qualified for the 1980 Olympics as well, but President Carter canceled U.S. participation due to a dispute with Russia. “It was a very sad time as the athletes were only a pawn in the game of politics. It was a sad time for everybody. However, life goes on and you have to appreciate every day.” Maxie Parks is a satisfied man and he feels blessed for what he has accomplished. “I am so grateful that the athletic experiences gave me a platform to help young people to make better choices and to understand that it’s good to have goals. Not so much short term-which is okay too-but to have long term goals and to let them know that they can achieve any goal they want to set for themselves, no matter how big or whatever it is. And they can reach those goals.” Maxie lives in Fresno and is the operations manager at the Fresno Recycling Center. He makes speaking appearances and often visits with young people to discuss their opportunities. Maxie and Lovern raised daughters, Shanel, Ambrosia, and Nia, and son Andre in Fresno.