Joseph P. Fox, Class of 1929
Prep Teacher & Coach (1945-1976)
During his tenure on the Prep Faculty, Joseph Fox taught history, economics, health, and physical education. He was a legendary track coach, a pioneer in New York City track programs, and a curmudgeon of the highest order. And then there what what some people called “the other Joe Fox” — a compassionate, caring, and attentive man who stayed in touch with many of his students long after they had left the Prep for college and beyond.
The son of James and Emma Fox, both originally from Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Joe Fox was born in New York and raised in the Bronx, though the family would spend a few years in Chicago where Joe would attend the Loyola Academy before returning to Elm Place just off Fordham Road. The Foxes had three children: a daughter, Catherine, and two sons. Joe and his brother James, Jr. graduated from the Prep in 1929, a class that included Malcolm Wilson, future governor of New York, long-time Prep benefactor and fellow Hall of Honor member. During his Prep years, Joe was a standout half-miler and captain and manager of the team during his junior and senior years. He was the CHSAA City Champion at 800 meters in 1929, and he earned a track scholarship to Villanova University, where he also played football and befriended James “Jumbo” Elliot, who would later became a famous track coach at that school.
After serving for three years as a physical fitness coordinator in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Joe returned to teach and coach track at the Prep. He continued coaching until 1965, took a break, and then coached again from 1972-1974. He retired from teaching in 1976.
Joe’s accomplishments in track are the stuff of legends. He coached national record holder Tom Carroll, Class of 1957 as well as NYC Marathon winner and New York Armory Foundation founder, Norbert Sander, Class of 1960, and many other elite collegiate and international track stars. As chairman of the CHSAA Track and Field Program, he implemented and promoted development strategies that made the league into one of the strongest in the nation. These strategies included an emphasis on development at the lower levels, which expanded the sport’s appeal. Joe also founded several well-known meets, which continue to this day. These include the New York Relays, Eastern States Championships, and Jesuit Championships.
As a teacher, Joe was considered tough but fair. His favorite method of enforcing discipline was to require classroom offenders to assist at weekend track meets. This is how lots of Prep students came to know Van Cortlandt Park and other track venues. And thanks to the clever Fox, the team was also assured of having a built-in rooting section, which the trackmen loved.
A story that exemplifies Joe’s dedication to the team as told by one of his former runners: “During the depth of New York City’s budget and bankruptcy woes, the cross country course at Van Cortlandt Park deteriorated to the point that it had become dangerous to run the trails. So Joe, being the kind of person who took matters into his own hands, rented a pickup truck, bought a load of dirt, a shovel, and a rake (all at his own expense), and proceeded to fill the holes on the trail and do some grading on his own. Some maintenance men tried to stop him. ‘Get out of here before I hit you with the shovel!,’ he said. That was that. The guys were thoroughly intimidated, and Joe finished the project.”
In the words of Coach George Febles of the Prep Track Program: “Joe Fox's following was based on what every Prep trackman knew -- that this man was passionate about the sport and what the sport had done for thousands of young men. Namely, that through discipline, industry, and balance, one could learn to push beyond expectations, to achieve things even they did not know were possible:”
More than 25 years after a former student of Joe's graduated from the Prep, he found himself a widower left with three young children, including an infant. For years, Joe Fox would call every week to check on him and his children. “His interest, empathy, compassion, and love were total,” the alum recounted. “Joe was unique in our world, where people tend to be too busy or don’t want to be involved in sensitive or emotional situations.” What an extraordinary testament to Joe's "loyalty and compassion for his boys.”
Joseph P. Fox passed away in 1990, leaving behind a legion of "Fox Trotters" as his legacy, devotees to the memory of a great man and to the sport to which he dedicated his life. The Prep's Track and Field Program, the Track & Field Hall of Fame, and the Prep's Fox Track all stand as enduring testaments to the Trotters' beloved Coach Fox.
SOURCES: Fordham Prep Hall of Honor biographies are based primarily upon personal interviews as well as school documents and publications including the St. John's College Second Division Prefect of Discipline Diaries; the Fordham Prep Beacon, Athletic Councilman, Rampart and Ramview; the Fordham Monthly, Ram, and Maroon; and school catalogs from 19th and 20th centuries. For additional sources, please contact the Fordham Prep Archives.