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era defined by segregation and unequal rights, eight African American
student-athletes came to MTSU not fully aware of the lasting impact they would
have on the university, athletics and each other.
a sense of their trailblazing impact recently when they returned to campus
Thursday, Feb. 6, as proud family, friends and a host of supporters attended a
special ceremony hosted by MTSU Athletics in the Student Union
Ballroom to honor them as "True Blue Pioneers."
Raiders Jerry Singleton, Art Polk (via Skype), Lonnell
Poole, Terry Scott, J.W. Harper, Ray Bonner, Ed Miller and Mary
“Beanie” Secrest were among those recognized in a panel discussion
moderated by MTSU’s Ed Arning.
all the honorees, Singleton, a track star, was the first African American to
receive an athletic scholarship to the university in the fall of 1965.
parents were unable to send me to college," said Singleton. “I had a great
desire to go college, knowing that’s the key to opening doors. (Track
coach) Dean Hayes presented me with an opportunity for which
I’m forever grateful."
joined at the event by his wife, Jan, other former coaches and
players, MT Athletics administrators and staff as well as MTSU President Sidney
came, integration wasn’t on my mind, because I was already a part of it where I
came from,” said Hayes, who began his legendary coaching career in the Chicago
area and has been at MTSU for more than a half century. “We were focused on
addition laid the foundation for future black male athletes at MTSU. He would
be joined by his former teammate Poole on the track team the following year.
Around the same time, other sports added African American athletes as well.
Polk would play basketball while Harper, Bonner and Miller became the program’s
first black football athletes. All of the athletes praised the coaches and
their families for welcoming them and fostering an atmosphere that tamped down
that social tensions boiled over in other parts of the South and country.
good to me here. I had a great opportunity to play and get a degree,” said
Bonner, a member of the famed “Mod Squad” defensive backfield under coach
Charles “Bubber” Murphy.
actually have two degrees from MTSU. God put us here for a reason.”
Franklin County, Tennessee, native has served as an assistant coach on Hayes’
staff the past several years.
Polk, a native
of Kansas City, Missouri, was in Africa and tuned in via videoconference to
answer questions and share lots of laughs and memories with his former
the university go through major transitions,” said Polk. “I am very proud of
the university’s willingness to change, adjust and now have such a diverse
the lone woman on the panel, played multiple sports while on the Blue Raider
campus — basketball, volleyball and intramural track — from 1971-1974, and
reflected on the challenges female athletes faced as a result of very limited
resources at the time.
for the male athletes, scholarships were not being offered within women’s
athletics during this period in collegiate sports. Secrest mentioned how
the love for the game and the competition is what kept her going, especially
during basketball season.
appreciate the ladies that stepped forward to coach us," said Secrest.
“Women athletics was totally different. It was nothing at all like men’s
sports. There were no scholarships. You played because you were an athlete.”
facing social challenges such as not being able to enter white restaurants
while traveling with the team, lack of scholarships and other factors, she
spoke of the valuable lessons learned and doors that opened because of MTSU.
progressed in corporate America like I never would have believed,” said
Secrest. “It has shown me what perseverance and determination will do for you.
The harder it is, the better it is for you.”
the upcoming events scheduled for MTSU’s Black History Month celebration,