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Derek Taylor, Magnet track coach, dies

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His voice resonated well past the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and 116th Avenue. And Campus Magnet assistant football coach Joe Pepe especially remembered that voice in early September when he and Jimmy Ryan conducted pre-season practices in the late summer heat.

“Watch the track!”

That was Derek Taylor.

Taylor, the longtime track coach at Campus Magnet whose tough exterior was surpassed only by his love for the sport and his athletes, died Jan. 17 following a long undisclosed illness. He was 41.

“He was a very dedicated young man, he did a real great job,” said Pepe, who is also the track coach at John Adams and has been for seven years. “We’re very saddened by his early departure.”

Taylor, who attended Newtown and then Tennessee State University, coached track at Campus Magnet since 1987. Through his hard work and dedication — and usually his sharp tongue — the great track tradition at Magnet (formerly known as Andrew Jackson) continued.

Under Taylor’s watch, Campus Magnet won countless Queens championships and captured the indoor city title in 1998-1999. The track program became the vehicle by which many of the inner city athletes were able to attend college.

“Track is going to miss one of its greatest high school coaches,” said Rhanda Hopkins, Taylor’s assistant coach for 10 years. “He wasn’t much on personality, but he was about getting them another way to get into college.”

Because of his illness, Taylor had to resign from coaching in December 2001. Just six months earlier he brought his team up to the Hartford Relays.

“He was very sick, but he still brought the kids there,” Pepe recalled. “The kids are really going to miss him. All the screaming, all the yelling was for the betterment of the sport. Derek never accepted an excuse. He’d always say, ‘Never make your problems my problems.’ ”

Several of Taylor’s current and former athletes, such as Edison Toby, Naim A’Malik and Courtney Jones, attended services for Taylor this weekend. According to Hopkins, plans are in the works for a memorial service at Campus Magnet in early June.

“He demanded the best from his athletes, but he gave nothing less,” she said. “He gave more than anyone realized.”

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