Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sports Center Saturday: Alexandria's Trailblazers

Friday night I watched ESPN's Image of the Black Athlete which was presented as the MLK National Town Hall event at Ebenezer Baptist Church. As a big sports fan and a student of African American history, I was happy to hear some discussion on history and the significance of those who overcame racial barriers, making it a little bit easier for those who followed.

Randy Shannon talked about how he kept a photo of Jackie Robinson in civilian clothes in his office because you couldn't tell if Robinson was an athlete or a businessman. Lots of people wouldn't recognize him because he wasn't in his baseball uniform. Marion Jones said it's very important for African American athletes to know the history of people of color in sports and to recognize the challenges they faced.

Some true pioneers in pro sports came out of Alexandria. Earl Lloyd, an Alexandria native and star at Parker-Gray High School, became the first African American to play in the NBA on October 31, 1950. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Parker-Gray basketball team c.1945 with star Earl Lloyd (center of first row).

Leon Day was also born in Alexandria but grew up in Baltimore. He was a stand-out pitcher and hitter in the Negro League in the 1930s and 40s. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and died just six days later.

Because of his importance to my college, I also want to recognize Alexandria's Jim Lewis, who grew up in Northern Virginia and has been a head coach for high school, college and WNBA teams. As a freshman at West Virginia University, he was one of four classmates who became the first African American members of the Mountaineer basketball team in the 1964-65 season.

Thank you, gentlemen.

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