Frederick D. Tootell

Inducted: 1968
Born: 1902
Died: 1964

Frederick Tootell was an Olympic gold winner who became nationally famous as a collegiate track coach at the University of Rhode Island.  He showed his promise as an athlete at Bowdoin College, earning all-Maine and All-New England honors as a football tackle as well as starring on the track team. At Bowdoin, he was a pre-med and language major.

Tootell had his first exposure to the hammer event at Bowdoin. As an 18-year-old, he placed 10th in the 1921 national rankings, but by 1923, he was in a class by himself as he won the IC4A and AAU titles. As a senior, he captured the national collegiate championship in the hammer throw with a distance of 175’ 1”. He also held the Bowdoin record in the event for nearly 40 years with a distance of 185’, which at the time was the world record.

By the end of his final year at Bowdoin, Tootell’s aspirations were to coach track and field and to compete in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. In Tootell’s era, coaching the sport would have classified him as a “professional” and would have voided his Olympic eligibility, so he enrolled at the Tufts Medical School to prepare for the Olympic trials. Shortly before the trials began for the “Chariots of Fire” Olympics, Tootell suffered a leg injury that required a cast. The cast was removed the morning of his competition in Paris, and with a toss of 174’ 10-1/8” he became the first American-born winner of the Olympic hammer throw.

Later that year, he began teaching and coaching at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. In one track and field exhibition that year, Tootell threw the hammer over 200’ on six consecutive attempts. He had trained in the sport briefly but became the first man to break the 200’foot mark. His coaching career made him ineligible for future international competitions. Beginning in 1925, Tootell began a 39-year-long affiliation with the University of Rhode Island. He was a professor of physical education and coached the tennis, track, and cross-country teams. His cross-country teams had 18 unbeaten seasons and won the National College Athletic Association title in 1941. His track team had 17 won seven straight Yankee Conference championships. He won the National Intercollegiate Championship in 1941. In 1936, he was the coach of the United States Olympic team in field events at the Berlin Games. He was also the director of athletics at the University of Rhode Island from 1953 to 1962. He served as President of the Association of Track Coaches from 1938-1942.

Tootell was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1902. He married Lucy Rawlings Tootell in 1935, and the couple had three daughters. Lucy Tootell served as a state representative from District 52 in the years from 1973 until 1977 and was the first woman deputy minority leader.  She was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2013.

Tootell is a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame  the Bowdoin Hall of Fame, the Helms Hall of Fame. and the University of Rhode Island Hall of Fame. Sports Illustrated named him one of Maine’s top 50 athletes of the 20th century. In addition, the award honoring the most outstanding field performer at the Maine State Collegiate Track and Field meet is named in his honor.

He remained at the University of Rhode Island until his death on September 29, 1964, at which time he was Chairman of the Physical Education Department. In recognition of his services to the University of Rhode Island, the sports complex is named after him. The Tootell House in Kingston, Rhode Island, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tootell was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968.

For additional reading:

  1. Fred Tootell, Olympedia, October, 2021.
  2. Fred Slings a Mean Hammer, Journal Gazette, Sep. 24, 1924.
  3. Frederick Tootell, Bowdoin College, May 28, 2020.
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