BLACK COLLEGE SPORTS HISTORY & LEGENDS

CHAMPIONS & DYNASTIES

NAIA

In 1948, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics under pressure from some of its all-white members, notably – Manhattan College of New York and Indiana State (coached by John Wooden) opened their postseason tournament to Black student-athletes. But, it would be three years later before a Black college would be allowed to participate. Given the climate of the day, the racial attitude preempted the opportunity for inclusion until a persistent group of Black college coaches and administrators teamed with the head of the NAIA – Al O. Duer- made their breakthrough. Milton Katz’s thesis on the “breakthrough” chronicles the movement that set the stage for the new era in collegiate sports.
Here is a summary of the Black college teams that rose to prominence.

1946    North Carolina College Eagles

Head coach John B. McLendon, Jr. led the Screamin’ Eagles to the inaugural 1946 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Basketball Invitational Tournament Championship which set the stage for the first of many exciting tournaments. Central was matched up against the no. 2 seed, Virginia Union in a hotly contested battle as the Eagles put on a fast paced display that had the crowds cheering wildly, especially after the teams went into double overtime and the Eagles scoring the last eight points to win the inaugural tournament, 64-56.
Black college basketball prowess began a groundswell for acceptance into the national arenas of collegiate competition.  

Tennessee A&I

Head coach John B. McLendon, Jr., George Parks, Billy Williams, James Hardy, Aubrey “Stinky” Stanleye, Floyd Brown, Henry “Big Dog” Thomas, Team manager, Edward “Pee Wee” Boyd

1957, 58, 59 Tennessee State A&I Tigers

The first triple double recorded in NAIA history (1957, ’58, ’59) was pulled off by the TIgers who became the first Black college basketball teams to win a national championship. Legendary head coach John B. McLendon, Jr. orchestrated a new concept called the “fast break” that ignited a era of change that saw other Black colleges programs emerge to win titles. The Tigers had an abundance of talent like Dick “Skull” Barnett, John Barnhill, Porter Meriwether and others who went on to play professionally.

1957
NAIA Finals: TSU 92-73 SE Oklahoma

1958
NAIA Finals: TSU  85-73 Western Illinois
MVP: Dick Barnett

Tennessee A&I

1959
NAIA Finals: 97-87 Pacific Lutheran
MVP: Dick Barnett 

1961 Grambling State Tigers

These Tigers became the second black college national champions and the first SWAC representative. They were led by Fred Hobdy, a longtime coach and athletic director and future NBA Hall of Famer Willis Reed.

Willis Reed
NAIA Finals: GSC 92-73
SE Oklahoma

Charles Hardnett
MVP

Fred Hobdy
Head Coach

1962 Prairie View A&M Panthers

The third Black college NAIA champion came the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Panthers were led by one of the best centers in All-American Zelmo Beaty, who went on to have an outstanding pro career.

Zelmo Beatty, Prairie VIew A&M

Zelmo Beaty
Tournament MVP
Finals: PVSU 65-53 Westminister, PA

1965, 68 Central State (OH) Marauders

The Marauders were the second Black college to become two-time champions. They had an undefeated  season (26-0) in 1965 on their way to the national title. They were led by two-time NAIA Tournament Most Valuable Player Ken Wilburn.

Ken Wilburn, Central State, OH

Ken Wilburn
2x -Tournament MVP

Kentucky State Thorobreds

Finals: 1965- 85-51 Oklahoma Baptist
               1968- 51-48 Fairmont State, WV

Bill Lucas
Head Coach

1970, 71, 72 Kentucky State Thorobreds

In the 1970s, the fabulous Thorobreds enjoyed the luxury of becoming the second Black college teams to have three consecutive NAIA championships. The trilogy was led by All-Americans Travis Grant, the leading scorer; center Elmore Smith, leading rebounder and block shots and dynamic point guard Michael Bernard. Head coach Lucious Mitchell, a disciple of Hall of Fame coach John B. McLendon, Jr., had one of the nation’s highest scoring teams.  

Travis Grant, Kentucky State 1970

Travis Grant
2x -Tournament MVP

Kentucky State Thorobreds

Finals: 1970- 79-71  Central Washington
           1971- 102-82  Eastern Michigan
                1972 – 71-62  Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Lucious Mitchell
Head Coach

1976 Coppin State Eagles

Head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell led the underdog Coppin State Eagles to the top of the NAIA. The Eagles were led by All-American Joe Pace. 

Joe Pace, Coppin State

Joe Pace
Tournament MVP
Finals: CSC 96-91 Henderson State

Ron “Fang” Mitchell
Head Coach

1977 Texas Southern Tigers

The Tigers, one of the first entries into the NAIA tourney, finally got their due as they romped over their opponent by 27 points. They were led by center Bennie Swain, a future NBA  draft pick by the Boston Celtics.

Ed Adams, Texas Southern

Ed Adams
Head Coach

Bennie Swain, Texas Southern

Bennie Swain
Tournament MVP
Finals: TSU 71-44 Campbell College

NCAA II

1967 Winston-Salem State Rams

The Rams became the first to break across the line when they ran away with the NCAA II title. Head coach Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines had a formidable arsenal: Earl Monroe, Bill English, Eugene Smiley, Ernest Brown, David Green, Vaughan Kimbrough, John Nathan, James Reid, Johnny Watkins and Steve Smith. Monroe became a NBA Hall of Fame player and Gaines was inducted into the Hall of Fame as one of the all-time greats.

Earl Monroe, WSSU

Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
Tournament MVP

1967 WSSU NAIA Champions

Finals: WSSU 71 -44 SW Missouri State

Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines
Head Coach

1974 Morgan State Bears

Marvin Webster led the Golden Bears to the title with an outstanding performance in the tournament. He averaged 21 points, 22.4 rebounds and 8 blocks and was named College Division Player of the Year.

Marvin Webster, Morgan State

Marvin Webster 
Tournament MVP

Nat Frazier
Head Coach

1978 Cheyney State Wolves

John Chaney led the Wolves to their only championship on his way to his celebrated coaching career. Andrew Fields was named tournament MVP.

Cheyney State Wolves

Finals: CSC 47-40 Wisconsin-Green Bay 

John Chaney
Head Coach

1980, 92, 05 Virginia Union Panthers

The Panthers enjoyed a marvelous stretch with three championships under head coach Dave Robbins. They were bolstered by talented players like tournament MVPs Keith Valentine (1982), Derrick Johnson (1992) and Antwan Walton (2005).  

Warren Peebles, VA Union

Warren Peebles
Tournament MVP

Virginia Union Panthers

Finals: 1980 – VUU 80-74 New York Tech
         1992 – VUU 100 -75 Bridgeport
2005 – VUU 63-58 Bryant

Dave Robbins
Head Coach
 

1982 District of Columbia FireBirds

The FireBirds brought a national championship to the DC area with All-American center Earl Jones and point guard Michael Britt.They were led by flamboyant head coach Wil Jones.

Earl Jones, UDC 2

Earl Jones
Tournament MVP
Finals: UDC 73-63 Florida Southern

Wil Jones
Head Coach

1989 North Carolina Central Eagles

The Eagles began and ended the list of Black College national champions under head coach Mike Bernard. Miles Clarke was named tournament MVP. 

North Carolina Central Eagles 1989

Finals: NCC 73-46 SE Missouri State

Mike Bernard
Head Coach