Cleveland Leigh Abbott is most noted for his phenomenal coaching career at Tuskegee Institute. Abbott was born in Yankton, South Carolina, in 1892. He was the son of Elbert and Mollie Brown Abbott, who moved to South Dakota from Alabama in 1890. Abbott attended and graduated from Watertown High School in 1912, and then he attended South Dakota State University at Brookings. He was a four-sport star, lettering in track, football, basketball, and baseball. Abbott earned 14 varsity athletic awards during his university career.
After college, he served in World War I as an officer in the 366th Infantry Regiment. When Abbott returned home after the war, he was personally recommended by Booker T. Washington for an agricultural chemist and athletic director position at Tuskegee Institute. However, the job was under the condition that Abbott would successfully earn his B.A. degree.
As athletic director, Abbott was expected to coach the Institute’s football team. During Abbott’s 32-year career, the Tuskegee team had a 202–95–27 record, including six undefeated seasons. Abbott also started the women’s track and field program at Tuskegee in 1937, and the team was undefeated from 1937 to 1942. Six athletes of his competed at U.S. Olympic track teams, including gold medalists Alice Coachman. He was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1996, and is credited with being one of the pioneer coaches of women’s track and field for more than four decades. Abbott died in 1955.