As our Black History Month celebrations continue, we’re delighted to honor a few heroes who have fought to expand access to sports, fitness, and play in New York City and beyond.  

Today, we honor the legacy of Joseph Yancey, Collete Smith, and Robert Douglas, who shared our belief that everyone deserves to take part in athletics. Their contributions have changed the lives of countless New Yorkers and demonstrated the importance of access to the entire sports world. We are proud to share in that mission as we work to transform lives and build community through sports, fitness, and play for all. 

Read on to join us in celebrating the everlasting impact of these sports leaders!  

Joseph Yancey  

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Joseph J. Yancey was a legendary track and field coach who founded the renowned New York Pioneer Club in 1936 to “support, encourage, and advance athletics among the youth of the New York Metropolitan district, regardless of race, color or creed.”  
Since its founding, the Pioneer Club has produced some of the best track and field athletes in history; Yancey coached 18 Olympians who competed on five different Olympic teams, and there has been an Olympic representative at the Pioneer Club every year since World War II.  
However, Yancey’s impact stretched far beyond athletic excellence. From the beginning, Yancey believed in the power of sports to build community and create passionate, well-rounded, and civic-minded citizens. In fact, the Pioneer Club welcomed athletes of all racial and ethnic groups “to further the ambition of our youth for higher education to work toward a better racial understanding through the medium of education and sports.” Outside the track, The Pioneer Club was active in the civil rights movement and protested fervently against segregation and bias in athletic competition.  

Yancey would also go on to coach and mentor Ted Corbitt, the first Black athlete to participate in the marathon at the Summer Olympics and the first president of the New York Road Runners. Later, Corbitt would become instrumental in making the New York City marathon one of the most inclusive and diverse athletic competitions in the world.


Collette Smith  

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Born and raised in New York City, Collette Smith is a former defensive back for the women's professional football team the New York Sharks, and the Founder and President of Believe N You, Inc. Smith made history in 2017 when she became the first Black woman to coach in the NFL, and the first female coach in New York Jets history.  

Throughout her career, Smith has been a leading advocate for women and girls in sports. In her role at Believe N You, she visits public schools in low-income and under-served communities to speak on the importance of building confidence and character through team sports. She has also given speeches at colleges, universities, corporations, organizations and events about facing adversity and disparities in access to sports.  


Robert L. “Bob” Douglas

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Bob Douglas was the founder, coach, and owner of the New York Renaissance, the first Black-owned and all-Black professional basketball team in history.  

Douglas founded 'The Rens' in 1923 when professional basketball was segregated. Nonetheless, Douglas fought to integrate the league by agreeing to play any team that would play The Rens, sometimes even playing twice in one day.   
Despite facing countless obstacles, Douglas made The Rens one of the greatest basketball teams in history, finishing with an astonishing record of 2,318-381. Their success helped pave the way for Black athletes to compete professionally.  

Today, the New York Renaissance Association carries on the legacy of Douglas and the Rens by “encouraging and aiding academic excellence, while instilling valuable life lessons, morals, community values, and true character into our youth.” Each year, the Harlem-based basketball program produces athletes who have gone on to compete in college and beyond. 


Continuing The Fight 


These legendary sports figures have fought tirelessly to bring equity to the sports world and believed that athletics could transform lives. At Asphalt Green, we share their commitment to expand access to transformative sports, fitness, and play programs.  

Click on the button below to learn more about how we work to deliver sports, fitness, and play to all!  

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