Former Local Track and Field Star Athlete, Now Homeless, Recognized by City Council

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Tennell_Atkins_Michels.jpg
Patrick Michels
Council member Tennell Atkins, who honored an old friend at yesterday's council briefing
The pre-lunch portion of yesterday morning's Dallas City Council briefing offered up at least one heartwarming, non-yawn-inducing moment as one of Dallas's homeless was recognized, if at least for a day, as the record-setting track-and-field star he once was for the city.

After a string of other awards and recognitions were presented prior to the actual briefing, some of the fine folks who helped out with the annual Thanksgiving event at Coaches Corner were called to the lectern to receive some recognition -- specifically the club's owner, Frank Jones. The event feeds hundreds of the area's mostly nameless and faceless homeless each year. However, there was one face in the crowd this year who used to be very familiar to many around town: Alvin Crenshaw.

Seems Crenshaw, who was wearing shabby cowboy boots and a well-worn, navy-blue suit, was quite the track-and-field athlete back in the early '70s -- he said DJs used interview him on the air before his competitions (including former DJ Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway). But, as Crenshaw told Unfair Park after Wednesday's meeting, "That was so long ago that it seems like somebody else." And he admits that since then he's "made some choices that I shouldn't have." Now, Crenshaw says he either stays with his sister, who lives in Dallas, or at the Austin Street Shelter downtown.

So, how exactly did Crenshaw end up at the council briefing? Well, it may or may not have everything to do with a chance meeting of a former track and field rival named Tennell Atkins.

"I guess you could say I used to be a bit of a Dallas celebrity," Crenshaw says. "I went to Roosevelt High School, and I was a track and field world-record holder. I was classified as number three in the United States, and I set a world indoor record is for the indoor quarter mile." (In fact, young athletes are still trying to break some of the records he set back in his prime.)

We caught up with Atkins yesterday afternoon by phone to find out how he reconnected with his former track friend and adversary.

"Me and Alvin used to go to all the same track meets," Atkins says. "He was the superstar of Roosevelt, and I was the superstar of Bishop Dunne ... but I hadn't seen Alvin in I guess 20, 25 years."

And, after Atkins recognized him at Coaches Corner, Crenshaw says, "Tennell picked me up and spun me all around, and told me he wanted to help."

Since then, Atkins has put Crenshaw in touch with several organizations around the area, including Dallas One-stop Optimized Reentry System. "This is a guy who wants to get back into the system," Atkins says. "Everybody might fall off the wagon, but if you can help somebody back on the wagon, that's what we're supposed to do. He's not asking and begging for people to give him something, he's trying to earn something. And I think it took a whole lot of courage for him to come and let us tell the story of where he was at."

Atkins says Crenshaw is "a good icon" for the city, and he, Caraway, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano and everyone else will do all they can to get him back into the system. "And, that's why I wanted to recognize him today."

And, after Crenshaw was brought before the council, it was quite the scene as people who remembered his glory days for Roosevelt rushed up to him after the presentation. (Medrano, for one.)

"They had me signing autographs and taking pictures with everybody," Crenshaw says.

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