Angela Williams is one of the most respected coaches in the NCAA. As the leader of the women’s track and field program at Prairie View A&M, Williams has the experience, knowledge, and work ethic to turn the Panther’s program into a SWAC championship contender year in and year out.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Williams moved to Brooklyn when she was nine years old. Her family traded their house on an acre and a half of land and a nanny for a new life and new beginnings in the United States. “Needless to say, it was challenging coming from the Caribbean with a strong accent in the 70s,” Williams recalls.”It wasn’t really accepted and I was getting teased at school.”
One of her teachers explained that she needed to stand up for herself and learn to fight. In third grade, after getting in a fight with a young boy, a group of people was waiting outside for Angela. She found out which side they were on and proceeded to bolt out the door, using her speed to escape. The next day at the assembly that same boy gave her a dirty look and Williams wasn’t having any of it. “I looked at him and I said you want me to beat you up again,” she said. “So, I guess all the fear in me I had was gone. And that’s where my track and field career started.”
"Girl, You're Fast"
Someone came to her and said, “girl you are fast”. They took her down to a local track team and the coach told her she had to beat everyone on the team including the boys to join. Not only did she beat the boys her age, but she beat the high school-age kids as well. At the time, Williams was involved in piano and was learning to play tennis, but by the time she was in the eighth grade, she knew she had a special talent on the track.
“By the time I was a freshman in high school, the chat had started talking about me making an Olympic team, but I never thought about it,” she said. I just pursued it. It was something that just became natural for me.” She remembers the first time she lost a race and Williams didn’t like it. That passion fueled her career that included over 200 scholarship offers before she eventually landed at TSU before transferring onto Seton Hall.
Williams went on to compete internationally for Trinidad and Tobago and ran in both the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. Coaching was never in the plans though.
“I never thought of coaching,” she said. “I never was like oh, I want to be a coach.”
A ruptured Achilles sidelined Williams in 1994. One year later she needed cartilage replaced in her knee. One last attempt at the 1996 Olympic Trials, but after a ninth-place finish, she decided four more years was a long time to train.
“I retired in 96,” she said. “My sister lived in Houston and she told me to move there. I told her I can’t go anywhere without a job, I don’t have an agent anymore, and I’m not making money.”
It just so happened a coaching position was available at a middle school in Houston. Williams sent in her resume which was only track and field, and the rest was history. After six years at the middle school level and an additional five at the high school level, she took over the helm of the women’s track and field program at Prairie View A&M in 2007.
Building A Program
“Anyway, I got a call from the athletic director and the department head in kinesiology because I was getting my Master’s in counseling. at Prairie View,” she noted, “I actually was going to Saturday school to prepare me. That’s the only thing I knew about Prairie View. I didn’t know about the track program or anything.”
She’d quickly find out that it would be a work in progress, a marathon of rebuilding both the talent and the facilities. Not a sprint like she was used to.
“We were the worst program in the conference,” she explained. “I had about 12 young women on my team and I would say maybe three of them were athletes. “Prior to me coming they had not finished better than eighth or ninth in a conference championship, cross country, indoor, and outdoor. And it became a challenge for me to build that program to get it to where it is now.
That perception changed over time. Williams continued to develop relationships with athletes she currently had and area coaches. Those coaches who had previously dismissed Prairie View as a place where athletes’ careers go to plummet, had a renewed hope with her at the helm.
“They saw the success we were starting to have and people were like oh Coach Williams can coach, so I’ll take a chance,” she said.”It was step by step by step just talking to people, but not talking to them to convince them, letting my athletes see. Taking the program from ninth to fighting for second place for so many years between Prairie View and Alabama State.”
Track and Complex Facility To Call Home
The caveat to building talent was bringing a first-class facility and IAAF-certified track at Prairie View. The track stadium came in July of 2016 just as Team USA was preparing for the Olympic Games. A vision and dream, that for Williams finally came to fruition.
“If we were able to have the type of track and surface and everything else that will come along with it there to show people that this is a special place,” she explained. If you have the facility, if you have the coaching, if you have these things, it is just like any other place that you can go to.”
This weekend the complex will play host to the USATF/HERSHEY Run, Jump, and Throws meet on Saturday, June 5th, followed by the USATF Showcase Journey To Gold Tokyo on Sunday, June 6th. To see athletes of all age groups and talent levels compete in her backyard is a proud moment that is hard to describe.
“It feels like when you have your chest out because you know you had a hand in getting something like this done, and knowing that it’s not finished yet,” she said. “Now, my new athletic director has said to me, when people come back next year, they’re going to be blown away. We want to finish all of the stands, put up our scoreboard, put in all the stadium records, SWAC records, everything that you would see when you walk up to a stadium.”
With new additions to the track and field complex right around the corner, Williams is going for gold with her future goals for the program and the facility.
“I would love to host the next Olympic Trials if that’s possible,” she said. “I know we have Oregon and I know other people are putting up tracks and I know you have to do it a few years in advance. I know I can host another Olympic Training Camp because this place is great. If I can get an Olympic Trials at Prairie View I can go ahead and retire and say you know I’ve done well.”