The Original "World's Fastest Human"

Howard Drew was Springfield, Massachusetts' greatest track athlete and the first man to hold the title of "World's Fastest Human." He was an African-American multi-sport athlete, scholar, soldier, lawyer, judge and gentleman. Long ago Howard Drew was referred to by the Springfield Newspapers as the man who "helped make Springfield famous" but more than a century later his extraordinary accomplishments have long been forgotten.
Until now....

Howard P. Drew - A Brief History

His First Track Meet

Howard Drew was born in Lexington, Virginia on June 28, 1890 but was raised in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Howard Drew likely ran in his first track meet in the summer of 1905 when he competed in The Springfield City Games in Forest Park. Without money to buy spikes, he hammered roofing nails through the soles of his tennis shoes. He won the "novice" 100 yard dash but the nails hurt his feet so much he decided to run the 440 yard dash in bare feet - on a cinder track - and took first place as well. Drew said "what the nails failed to do to my feet the cinders on the ground did. I felt I had been walking on a sea of glass mingled with fire. I went home with sore feet but very proud of my two medals."

Howard Drew's actual gold medal from Springfield City Games, July 4 1905
[Howard Drew's gold medal from the Springfield City Games, July 4 1905]

His High School Years

He entered Springfield High School in 1906 but dropped out his freshman year to support his family. He re-entered to complete his freshman year in 1910 and played football (as a running back - see left image) baseball (see right image) and competed on the track team all 4 years.

Howard Drew with Springfield HS Track Team, 1911
^ ......
Howard Drew with Springfield High School Track Team - Junior Year

(Below) From the 1912 Springfield High School Yearbook, The Pnalka.
Please read the last  paragraph.

From the 1912 Springfield High School Yearbook, The Pnalka

Photos of Howard Drew while in high school
From His 1913 High School Yearbook
From His 1913 High School Yearbook

Howard Drew - Olympian

In 1912, while still in high school, Drew won the US Olympic Trials 100 meter dash, easily beating the fastest American of the time, Ralph Craig. 

Click on Above Newspaper Headline from
Springfield Republican to read Story

Although a bone fide high school student, Howard Drew had a wife and children to support.  When the mayor of Boston learned that Drew might not be able to go to the Olympics, he started a fund with a $25 donation.  The Springfield Newspapers wired AAU Commissioner Sullivan to make sure that if donated funds were given to Drew's family that it would not affect Drew's amateur status.  Students and citizens of Springfield were eager to help Howard Drew travel to Stockholm and the donations poured in allowing him to make the journey.  

Drew was the overwhemlingly presumed favorite to win Olympic Gold in both the 100m and 200m sprint events.

Drew represented the USA in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and most likely would have won gold medals had he not pulled a muscle in the 100 semi-final causing him to withdraw from the finals.  His trainers told him he risked permanent injury, so with great disappointment he watched teammate Ralph Craig win both the 100 and 200 knowing he would have easily won had he been able to compete.

This recently acquired original photo of Howard P. Drew says on the back
"must be credited as 'Photo by Bain News Service'.
It was released on Jan. 27 1916, the day after the Millrose Games (see below),
but appears to be Drew on the ship on the way to the Olympics or at an Olympic ceremony.

Upon his return home Drew told the local newspaper that at a time trial the US team had in Sweden, he posted a world record time and expected to win the 100m event.  He took his preliminary race easy but decided to go for a record in his semi-final.  "I went out of my holes strong and soon had a lead of six yards.  About half the distance I struck a piece of soft track and all of a sudden I felt my muscles in the fleshy part of my left leg give way and I finished the heat hopping.  I had such a big lead that the others in the race could not pass me."

Drew went to the starting line for the 100m final but could hardly move and had to be helped back.  The trainers tried everything to get Drew in shape to run the 200m but decided that he risked permanent injury and kept him from any further running events.

Read Drew's account of his misfortune by clicking on the newspaper headline below.

Click on Above Newspaper Headline from 8/1/1912
for Drew's Own Story on His Olympic Misfortune

Story in the August 1912 NAACP Crisis Publication

Note: Ralph Craig was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2010,
primarily because Craig, not Drew, won the 1912 Olympic gold medals.  Craig ran at Michigan
and upon graduation he stopped running.  He was urged to try out for the Olympic Team and after winning Gold
in the 100m and 200m events, Craig never set foot on a track again.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame
for his “unique and indelible” contribution to sport! 

Howard Drew in 1912 Olympic Uniform

Excerpt from:

Steven W. Pope
University of Maine
Orono, Maine, U.S.A.

In truth, the exclusion of African-Americans and women belied the dominant "melting-pot" rationales for American athletic prowess. The romantic belief that American Olympic teams brought minority groups together was, accurate only as far as certain European immigrant groups were concerned. Although it was common to interpret black and female athletes historical involvement in sport as an inexorable procession toward freedom and equality, in reality, Jim Crowism and sexism in amateur sport ensured that African-Americans and women were excluded from Olympic participation.

African American track and field athletes were conspicuously excluded from bourgeois public discourse on the Olympic Games. Until William De Hart Hubbard won the broad jump in the 1924 Paris Games, only Howard P. Drew, a star Springfield, Massachusetts sprinter invited to the 1912 Games by James Sullivan, was recognized in the national sport commentary. After winning a trial heat in the 100 meters, Drew pulled a tendon, and was unable to compete in the finals which his teammates predicted would have given him the gold medal. Later, as a collegiate athlete at the University of Southern California, Drew won many intercollegiate titles and set world records. His 9.6 second time for the 100-yard dash run in 1914 stood unsurpassed until future African-American Olympic star, Thomas Edward Tolan broke the record in 1929 with a 9.5 seconds time.

More widely recognized than Drew, Tolan received an athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he set both Michigan and Western(Big Ten) Conference records in both the 100-yard and 200-yard sprints. Tolan won gold medals in the 100- meter and 200-meter sprints at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. His 10.3 second 100-meter time would be equaled by Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Games, but would remain unbroken until 1960.  Jesse Owens became the first nationally-renown African-American Olympic athlete as a result of his stellar performances in 1936. Not until the 1936 Berlin Games were exponents of the American melting-pot ideology forced to address the blatant contradiction in opposing Nazi racial philosophy while doing nothing about racism at home except to use Jesse Owens as anti-Nazi propaganda.

Fate stepped in one more time to deny Howard Drew his chance for Olympic glory.  World War I prevented him from going for the gold again when the 1916 Olympics were canceled. He served in the US Army as a Supply Sergeant. The Allied Troops did hold their own "Pershing Olympics" in Paris where the biggest star was "sensational sprinter" Howard Drew."

By the time tryouts for the USA track team for the 1920 Olympics came, Drew, now in his thirties, was unable to make the team.  Nevertheless, Charles Paddock the 100 gold medalist of the 1920 Olympics called Drew "the smoothest piece of running machinery the world has ever seen."

The College Years

A straight-A student by the time he graduated from Central High School (Springfield High School had been renamed in 1913), he at first planned to attend the YMCA Training School to be close to his family (later renamed Springfield College) but ended up studying at Lincoln University (the first historic Negro college) before he entered the University of Southern California (USC) on a work-study program.  For additional financial help Drew wrote two articles a week for the Los Angeles Examiner about physical fitness, exercise, civil rights, and racial equality.

Drew at USC
Drew at USC

At USC he was a National AAU Champion in the 100y and 220y dashes and held multiple world records in a multitude of short sprints between 1913 and 1918. Some of his World Records weren't broken until 1929.

One of Howard Drew's Many Rose Bowl Trophies

Not many people know that the Rose Bowl was a major track meet for many years before switching to football.  Howard Drew was very passionate about "American style" football, having played at Springfield High School.  To make sure that Drew did not injure himself, USC would not allow him to play football.  However Drew was partly responsible for helping to bring football to the west coast colleges due to his bylined column in the USC campus newspaper, which was then called the Daily Southern Californian, as well as writing for the Los Angeles Express on civil rights, physical fitness and the importance of academics.

During his career at USC Drew set a World Record in the 100y dash of 9.6 seconds on March 28, 1914.  He was National AAU Champion in the 100 and 200 and in 1914 set a new World Record of 21 2/10 (21.2) in the 220y dash (broken 7 years later by Charles Paddock in 1921).

Certificates of Howard Drew's World Records



In 1918 Drew is referenced in Popular Science Magazine with "the greatest speed attained by any man,"
with a 9 3/5 second 100 yard dash from March 28, 1914) (Click image to enlarge)

Howard Drew - World Champion

Earning mostly "A" grades at USC, Drew continued his education with the study of law at Drake University.  After settling in Hartford, CT he became an attorney (one of only 6 in the state) and was the first Black judge in Connecticut (one of the first in the nation). 

He played baseball and football in high school (USC didn't want him risking his track career so he didn't play football in college) and Drew was the only African-American member of the 1912 USA Olympic (exhibition) baseball team. Jim Thorpe was also on the track & baseball teams and shared left field responsibilties with Drew.

Drew was the only African-American member of the 1912 USA Olympic (exhibition) baseball team.

Howard Drew also wrote newspaper articles on civil rights, fitness and education. He was a track coach and later a track official - often as a starter for events that included Jesse Owens

Drew Takes A Public Stand Against Racism
as a high school student - as an attorney

As a youth he refused to run at Boston Athletic Association track meets because they posted a notice that "no Negro would ever represent the association in any way." Drew refused to act as an attraction for them under the circumstances and publically stated so.

Newspaper Clipping: Rule Against Colored Athletes Angers Drew
Click Above to Read Entire Article

As an attorney, Drew wanted the people of Connecticut to know that African-Americans could be more than just
domestic servants, common laborers and indigents

Howard Drew - Record Breaker

Click Above To Read Entire Newspaper Article


Drew is a Headliner
at the Millrose Games

January 26, 1916 - The crowds at Madison Square Garden are so large that the Fire Department ordered the doors closed and the police had trouble controlling the crowd.

They came to the Millrose Games to watch Howard Drew compete in a special invitational event that brought together four of the world's fastest sprinters.  The finish was so close that there was a conference amongst the officials before the "Springfield sprinter" was awarded first place in a World Record-equalling time that Drew himself had set 4 years earlier.  The NY Times wrote "it certainly served to make Drew the leader in his class again."

Click Below To Read Entire Newspaper Article

Howard Drew graced the cover of one of the earliest editions of the NAACP's "The Crisis" magazine - the special "Education Number." The Crisis was edited by W.E.B. Dubois and they likey met.  Drew also had the opportunity to meet the other most influential voice of African-Americans when at USC he met Booker T. Washington.

cover of the July, 1915 edition of the NAACP's Crisis magazine 

Howard P. Drew was the first great Black track star, an Olympian, World Record holder, scholar, lawyer, judge, civil rights activist and gentleman. 100+ years ago he was a high school student in Springfield and the captain of his school's track team.

There is so much more to the amazing life of Howard P. Drew. The "City of Firsts" will hopefully soon recognize the original Fastest Man in the World: Springfield's own, Howard Porter Drew.


Howard Drew's actual gold medal from Springfield City Games, July 4 1920
He was the "World's Fastest Human"
but came back to Springfield to run in the
City Games every summer - for 15 years!
[Above is Drew's 1920 Gold Medal]

Below, (and undated image from) The Springfield Union Newspaper, in recapping his
life as "World's Record Holder, Sensational Half Back at Springfield HS,
Sergeant in the Allied Forces of WWI, Returns Home as Starter in Games
He Once Starred In, One of Four Negro Lawyers in Conn., Globetrotter Deluxe,"
asserted Howard P. Drew "Helped To Make Springfield Famous."

Soldier's Field Northwood Cemetary
Howard P. Drew is buried only 20 minutes from Springfield

This is the only monument to Howard P. Drew

Howard P. Drew is a role model for today's youth. He persevered as a world-class sprinter even though fate kept Olympic Gold out of his reach.  He dropped out of high school but returned to finish school and went to college on a scholarship.  He was injured in 1916 resulting in being paralyzed on his left side.  Everyone said he'd never run again but he recovered and continued to sprint with a slight bend.  He insisted on being "treated like a man" during an era of pervasive racism.  When his career in track was over he continued to set his sights high as an attorney and later as the first African-American judge in Connecticut.

Extraordinary Athlete, Olympian, Multiple World Record Holder,
Civil Rights Advocate, Track Coach, Track Official,
Scholar, Author, Attorney and Judge.

Forgotten by time - until now...

Click Above to Read Entire Editorial


Update: Jan. 29, 2012
Howard Drew is Inducted into the Massachusetts
State Track Coaches Association Athlete Hall of Fame

Cynthia Roberson, direct decendant & great granddaughter of Howard Drew
accepts the MSTCA Hall of Fame "Flame" Award on his behalf.
Not surprisingly, Cynthia is a teacher in the Springfield Public Schools.

Howard Drew's name is now enshrined on the Athlete Hall of Fame wall at the Reggie Lewis Track Center in Boston, Mass.


Max Sullivan receives 2012 Howard Drew Award
click for PDF version
Complete African American Point of View July 2012 edition can be viewed by clicking here


UPDATE: 2/16/2014

Click Article to Read Online at

UPDATE January, 2015:

Eyasu Michael receives the Howard Drew Award at the
Howard Drew Track Banquet on January 10, 2015
at the Dunbar Community Center in Springfield, MA.
Presenting the award is Cynthia Roberson, great granddaughter of Howard Drew

Update: March 6, 2016
Historic Classical Inc. at Classical Condominiums
to Highlight Famed Springfield Athlete Howard Drew


Photos: Seen@ Classical Condo's tribute to
Howard P. Drew, Springfield's star scholar-athlete

March 6, 2016 - Howard Drew
Receives Recognition from:

The United States Senate

The United States Congressional Record

The Massachusetts House and Senate

The Springfield (Massachusetts) City Council

A Proclamation by The Mayor
of The City of Springfield

UPDATE: MAY 16, 2016:
Springfield Central High School track set to be named
after famed hometown sprinter Howard Drew

Cynthia Roberson, the great-granddaughter of Howard Drew, spoke at the dedication of
Springfield’s Central High School track in his honor.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

Howard Drew finally honored with
track naming ceremony


For further information on Howard Drew please contact Coach Larry Libow

Howard P. Drew Information Complied by Coach Larry Libow from:

- Springfield Republican Newspaper archives at the Springfield Public Library,
- Archives at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History,
- Additional photographs submitted by Steve Vaitones, Managing Director, USATF-New England, 

- Publication "Howard P. Drew: Record Breaker ...Rule Maker", 2006, USC Black Alumni Association,

- Lura Ball, Curator of Howard Drew memorabilia and USC exhibition researcher

If you would like to publish an article about Howard Drew, please consider using this article (available in PDF format).  You may re-print the article as long as you comply with following terms: Article must be published "as is" (unedited) except that you may correct grammar and spelling errors. Article must be published with the author's bio paragraph (below) and copyright information included. URL in the resource box should be set as active hyperlink back to this page.  Article cannot be used in spam communications.

Click Mass Live Logo Above for Article
on Howard Drew in Springfield Republican Newspaper


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Coach Larry Libow was on the Board of Governors of USATF-New England, as an Athlete Rep and as Youth Chair, is a USATF Level 2 Coach, is a USATF Coaches Registry Approved Coach.
Coach Larry was USA Track & Field 2011 Northeast Zone Youth Coach of the Year, has been a volunteer track coach for the High School of Commerce in Springfield since 2003.
Coach Larry was a co-founder of the YMCA of Greater Springfield's Y-Speed Track Club and served as volunteer Head Coach for many years. 
Coach Larry is a Masters Track athlete, founded the Mass Velocity Track Club and the Western Mass Raptors Track Club.
 He has been the Managing Director of the Massachusetts Senior Games and served on the MASG Board of Directors since 2003.