Guy Rodgers (center), Naismith Hall of Famer
For me it was 1978. College wasn’t the norm around my way. I grew up in the southern section of Darby Township, PA a small rigidly segregated town bordering Southwest Philadelphia, about 2 miles from the Philadelphia Airport. In the mid to to late 1970s, the southern end of Darby Township consisted of a cemetery, three traffic lights, Eddie’s Hot Dog stand, about 7 or 8 churches, 2 bars and a populations of around 3,000 sports crazed Black people. Demographically similar to nearby Philadelphia and Chester, PA with an Apartheid-like political and social structure straight out 1960‘s small-town Mississippi, Darby Township was a wonderful place to grow up if you enjoyed sports. For most, however, the athletic journey ended with high school.
Looking back, it seems we punished opponents on fields and courts, at least in part, because we exercised very little political, economic and social power in Delaware County. The Northern, predominantly white, section of Darby Township held, and continues to hold, political power through a permanent 3 (white) -2 (Black) representative structure on the Township Commission. The political deck was and is stacked against Blacks in the southern end of Darby Township. However, within the athletic realm, more or less, the playing field was fair.
In September 1977, I was 12 and like virtually every one of the other 200-225 boys in Darby Township Junior-Senior High School, I wanted to play for one of the Darby Township Eagles varsity squads. That was the long-term goal. There wasn’t much else to do other than march with drill teams or go to bible study. Being rhythmically challenged and a certified sinner, I chose basketball. This was before the advent of personal computers and home video games. There was no cable television. Cell phones were something on the Jetson’s cartoon. Crack cocaine had yet to be invented and disseminated within poor and working class Black communities. There was no AAU circuit. No programs sponsored by sneaker companies. It was truly a different and far less complicated time.
Jim Williams, Led Temple in scoring and rebounding from 1963-66
For most boys, there was but one outlet. In Darby Township you went to school and after school you went to practice. Then, when you came home, you played some more. Finally… when the games came around, you tried to punish the opposition. That’s all I knew. I didn’t realize that Darby Township, along with Chester and Darby-Colwyn were considered to be on the lower-end of the county’s socio-economic scale. I just knew when the horn blew, Darby Township came to play. Expectations were high and justifiably so.
In 1975, when I was 10 Darby Township won the State Class A Basketball title. Two years later in 1977, an undefeated Darby Township squad was knocked out of the PIAA playoffs by eventual state champion Elk Lake. That spring, DTHS finished second in the PIAA small-school track championship.
In the fall of 1977, I entered the Darby Township Jr-Sr High School. I was truly blessed. This was the Golden Age of Darby Township Athletics. A period when Darby Township produced some of the greatest scholastic teams and individual performances in Delaware County history. This was time when the dream of college became a reality for me and so many of my teammates and classmates.
One of the first things I noticed upon entering the building was Cardall Baskerville. While the rest of the nation beyond Darby Township focused on Walter Payton, Franco Harris and Tony Dorsett, Baskerville was my football hero. In my mind, he was the greatest running back on the planet. He averaged 6.9 yards every time he toted the rock. You had to see it in person… He would run through a lineman and linebackers like they made of goose feathers and popsicle sticks. Once beyond the line of scrimmage, he would cut sharply, start running upright, change gears and leave defenders smelling fumes for huge chunks of yardage. Damn… He was good!
How good was Cardall? Darby Township’s coach, Alonzo Covert, said at the time, “He has everything a coach could ask for in a running back.” Covert coached the Eagles to the school’s first undefeated, untied season that year. Baskerville’s exploits were recognized throughout the area. The Philadelphia Eagles Alumni Association named Baskerville Delaware County’s Player of the Year. On December 18, 1977 during halftime of the Eagles vs. Jets game at Veterans’ Stadium Baskerville was introduced to 56,000 fans. In my 12 year old mind, this was huge… I thought the whole world knew about Cardall.
Every day, I would be in awe just watching him walk through the halls. The future seemed so secure. Surely he would go to college and then off to the NFL. Shit… I knew he would win the Heisman like Bonner’s John Cappelletti and go on to NFL glory. He was the best in Darby Township, that meant he had to be better than a guy from Bonner. There were no naysayers… There was no doubt that he was good enough… “This is just the beginning of what Delaware County is going to hear about Cardall Baskerville,” said Covert. “I have received many inquiries about him from colleges that play major college football. They always ask if he can be a Class A college player. I tell them he can be a Class A-plus player. I believe that he could play for Nebraska or Oklahoma or Southern Cal and I’m talking about next year.” You would hear whispers that Syracuse and Penn State were in the school to see him… Man, I was impressed.
Unfortunately, his football career ended at Darby Township High School. Like so many extremely gifted, record setting, young Black Darby Township athletes, Baskerville did not qualify academically to play collegiate sports. He never played beyond scholastic level. To this day everyone that saw him play remains convinced that the nation was cheated because Cardall didn’t get to keep toting that rock at the collegiate level. His life would end tragically when he committed suicide a few years later. It didn’t make sense… How could he be that good and NOT go to college?
That really shook me up. How could the best player on the best team in the area not go to college. I tried unsuccessfully to make sense of this situation… I was young, impressionable and did not possess adequate analytical tools… All I knew was… Nobody could stop him. They never lost a game. This didn’t make any sense. Was the system rigged? I had no understanding of SAT exams and the college admissions process. It just didn’t seem fair… He was better than everybody. I felt doomed. If Cardall couldn’t make it, I had absolutely no shot!
Could anyone actually make it out and play in college out of Darby Township? At 13, I knew a couple of DTHS alums like Leroy Eldridge (Cheyney St.) and Chris Arnold (Virginia St.) had went on to star at historically Black colleges, but even they were very few and far between. Moreover those guys graduated in the 60s and were pretty far removed from me… What about the guys I went to school with? Was college a possibility?
Alton McCoullough and Vince Clark, Baskerville’s extremely talented running mate, would answer those questions for me when they enrolled in Temple University in 78 and 79 respectively.
A key player on the undefeated 1977 Darby Township basketball that lost to Elk Lake in the Final Four, McCoullough led Darby Township to the State Championship game in 1978 where they lost to Father Geibel.
But most importantly, Alton went onto Temple University. At that point in Darby Township, this was a gigantic accomplishment. A kid from Darby Township was playing basketball at the highest collegiate level. While we were all from the “wrong side of the tracks”, “Big Al” was from the “Center.” The Center is a Delaware County Public Housing Development… It’s what some call “the projects.” At the time, my family was living in another subsidized housing development a few blocks from the Center.
Aaron McKie and John Chaney
If “Big Al” could go from the Center to Temple, we all could go to college. Immediately, I loved Temple. I spent the next four years buying newspapers just to see the box scores. There was no ESPN, no Comcast Sports, if you wanted to follow college sports you had to exert a little effort. Big Al went on to have a very solid career at Temple. Over four years (1978-192) he would score 1,051 points and grab 673 rebounds while playing on one NCAA tournament team.
However, his biggest accomplishments, his most important feats did not take place in McGonigle Hall. They took place down the Center court.
In a way, I’m sure he never fully understood, Alton brought Temple University to Darby Township and influenced a generation of young Black boys. He didn’t bring the bricks and mortar. He didn’t bring the books. He brought the “idea” of Temple to Darby Township. Al and his teammates were real live Temple ambassadors in Darby Township.
Every summer, Al would bring Rick Reed, Kevin Broadnax and Neil Robinson to play in the Darby Township Summer League. While Lynn Greer, Sr., Leroy Eldridge and other highly regarded players competed as well, the buzz was most intense when Big Al and the boys from Temple were up next. I was never disappointed. It during those moments that I began to grasp the difference between high school and NCAA Division 1 athletics. Broadnax was the first person I ever saw extend his arm parallel to the court while dunking with enormous force. He jumped that high. Robinson was one of the tallest players in the league and one of the better ball-handlers. This did not make sense to my 13 year old mind. Rick Reed was just the man. I remember it like it was last week. Temple Basketball was part of Darby Township, Darby Township basketball was Temple basketball as long as Al was on the team.
The games were played at the “Center” court. This court was a “bottle throw” away from the projects. I know this because my man “Peep-Sight” proved it when he hurled 4 or 5 beer bottles from the projects into the jump circle from the projects during one hot summer night when they wouldn’t let him play.
They simply swept up the glass and kept it moving… Darby Township had it’s share of “issues.”
The college boys from Temple, for me, represented what was possible. They let me believe I could overcome the whatever issues presented themselves. They gave me hope. Al and the other Temple players were incredibly accessible. They spent hours hanging and talking with the younger guys and, of course, made time for the young ladies that gathered on the fringes of the court every night. Temple, from 1978 to 1982, became Darby Township’s team. One of my friends and teammates, Robert Carter, became so enamored with Rick Reed’s game that he literally adopted the moniker “Rick Dunk” which stuck throughout his own illustrious playing career.
Temple University gave young Black boys in this small community hope. By adopting Alton and Vince, Temple let us know that we were good enough. Temple wanted us. Temple respected us.
In 1979, Baskerville’s running mate, Vince Clark, would set a state single game rushing record by piling up 438 yards against Yeadon. Clark, like McCoullough the year before, would accept a scholarship to play at Temple. He would go on play two years seasons for the Owls carrying the ball 35 times and gaining 167 yards. That same year Jim McGloughlin from neighboring Collingdale also agreed to play at Temple. St. James’ Donny Dodds would also join the Owls shortly after.
For young kids, Black and White, from the “wrong side of the tracks” Temple University seemed like the only place that would welcome us. In retrospect, once Alton and Vince “made it” to Temple, one could sense a change among young poor Black boys in Darby Township. College was now a very real option. The question was no longer if, but where, would you go.
I fell in love with the Big 5 basketball and Temple University in 1978 when Alton McCoullough enrolled at Temple University. That love was reinforced in 1979 when Vincent Clark moved to North Broad Street. Until then, I really didn’t know anyone other than my teachers that had attended college. By embracing Alton and then Vince, Temple broadened my horizons. By bringing Temple basketball to Darby Township every summer, Alton provided a lot of guys with role models, inspiration and a a clear example of what was possible.
Doug Ambler and Rick Pergolini were young guidance counselors at Darby Township during this period. They often cite the period of 78-82 as the Golden Age of Darby Township Athletics. According to them more Black boys from Darby Township went on to college during that era than at any other time in the history of Darby Township. It all started with Big Al going to Temple.
I know that idea of college wasn’t “real” for me until I saw Big Al, Reed, Broadnax and Robinson playing ball down the “Center.” If those guys could make it to Temple, I knew I was smart enough to go to college.
Ten years later, I had fellowship offers from schools like Michigan, Ohio State, California-Davis, Delaware, and Maryland-College Park. They wanted to pay my tuition and pay me to attend their respective graduate programs. Not bad for a kid raised by a single Mom on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Not gifted enough to be a Division 1 athlete, these schools were recruiting me to “study and perform research.”
The idea, the notion, the thought that I could really attend college grew from seeing Alton McCoullough and Vince Clark, my DTHS heroes go on to attend Temple University.
Since then, I have followed Temple basketball closely. I appreciate how Temple continues to provide young poor students and student-athletes an opportunity to improve their life opportunities.
For a quarter century, I watched John Chaney carve out a Hall of Fame coaching career at Temple’s, all the while loudly proclaiming that he was giving opportunity to the less fortunate among us. I bore witness to the example Coach Chaney set by confronting racial discrimination in a most direct and forceful manner. For instance, in January 1989, Coach Chaney emphatically declared, “The NCAA is a racist organization of the highest order… On this day, it instituted a new punishment on black kids who have already been punished because they are poor. Any time the NCAA, which is 90 percent white, considers the youngsters in Division I basketball and football, it discriminates, because 89 percent of the kids are black… I wonder what message they are sending. It’s another hardship for black kids made by white folk.”
That, for me, is Temple University.
Throughout my lifetime, Temple has represented the vanguard for racial equality and opportunity for advancement for Blacks in college sports.
Temple hired an African-American football coach when people were still wondering if we could play the quarterback position. Temple gave Dawn Staley, a product of the Raymond Rosen Housing Development in North Philly and her first opportunity to coach at the collegiate level. Right now, Temple has one of a few major college athletic programs headed by an African-American.
More than any other University in the region, Temple has provided opportunities for young poor and working class Black students and student-athletes.
It’s hard to understand how Temple alums that came of age during the aforementioned eras allow a handful of alums and Temple sports fans to publicly spew bitter and racist vitriol aimed at the community surrounding Temple and it’s residents. That’s NOT the Temple way.
Temple featured a Black back court of Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear in the mid-1950s. Jim Williams led Temple in scoring and rebounding in 1963-64, 1964-65, and 1965-66. John Baum did the same in 1967-68 and 1968-69. Ollie Johnson starred for the Owls throughout the early 1970s.
In 1978, Temple reached out grabbed a poor Black boy from Darby Township and gave him a chance to perform on the big stage. As a result, the rest of the town embraced Temple and scores of young Black boys would go on to play sports and graduate from college. At 13, I old took notice and embraced the dream of attending college and beyond. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I wholeheartedly embraced everything John Chaney and the Temple basketball program represented.
As I approach 50, it pains me to see some Temple alums adopting perspectives that would have absolutely killed the spirit of that impressionable 13 year old boy.
But what hurts even more is the apparent unwillingness of the majority of Temple alums to confront racist, bigoted and homophobic statements in a way that affects change. It needs to cease.
Hopefully, good will prevail and those articulating negative ideas will be made to feel uncomfortable.
One can only imagine what would have been written on a Temple message board when Rodgers and Lear played in the 1950’s. Would Temple fans support the aforementioned position and statements of Coach Chaney? I prefer to believe that the Temple community, as a whole, would have embraced their Black students and student-athletes. After all, that’s the image Temple has cultivated over the course of it’s distinguished history. It’s a legacy that is both admirable and valuable.
To a large extent, the impressions of contemporary high school students and student-athletes have of colleges and universities are driven by television and social media. Thirty-seven years ago, my understanding of what Temple University represents was forged by extensive direct contact with and first hand observation of young men from the University’s athletic department. I wanted to be like those guys. I wanted to play college basketball. As I got older, I wanted to follow the example set by Coach Chaney and confront bigotry, racism and discrimination head on. I remain committed to that task.
To me… that’s the Temple way of doing things. Maybe things have changed more than I thought on North Broad Street.