Lewis Bowling: NCCU's athletic tradition among richest in N.C.
North Carolina Central University has a rich athletic history, both in terms of team and individual accomplishments.
A short list of the great athletes connected to NCCU will ultimately leave out many deserving name, but hopefully the following names will remind area college sports fans that NCCU stands proudly as a university in athletics along with academics.
Leroy Walker was simply one of the best men to ever call Durham home. His list of honors and accomplishments are far too numerous to try to list in one column, but Dr. Walker was a longtime NCCU track coach, head coach of the United States Olympic track team in 1976, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee and NCCU Chancellor.
The Leroy T. Walker Physical Education and Recreation Complex on the NCCU campus bears his name.
John McLendon was the basketball coach at NCCU from 1940 to 1952, and won 264 games with only 60 losses. His first NCCU team was voted “Negro National Champions” by the Associated Negro Press in 1941 and his name now adorns NCCU’s McDougal-McLendon Gymnasium at NCCU. McLendon also became the first black coach in a professional basketball league when he was named head coach of the Cleveland Pipers of the American basketball League in 1961 and was the first black coach of a predominantly white college when he was named head coach at Cleveland State in 1966. He later was head coach of the Denver Rockets in the American Basketball Association.
Herman Riddick, after playing football at NCCU in the early 1930s, became head coach at Hillside High in Durham and built a powerhouse of a program that may be unrivaled in North Carolina. In ten seasons at Hillside, Coach Riddick compiled a record of 82-3-5 that included eight state championships. Riddick then kept up his winning ways in a 20 season career at NCCU, where he was 112-56-11. O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is now the home of the NCCU Eagles.
From 1952 to 1956 Lee Calhoun was one of the nation’s outstanding track athletes at NCCU, and he won a gold medal in the 110-meter high hurdles in both the 1956 and 1960 Olympic games. Calhoun is now enshrined in the U.S. National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
In the mid-1950s John Baker was an intimidating presence on the NCCU football team, and went on to play in the NFL for 12 years. Known as “Big John,” he stood 6-foot-6 inches and weighed 280 pounds. He served more than 20 years as Wake County Sheriff after his pro football retirement and reports are that crime went down on Big John’s watch.
Herman “Ike” Boone was an NCCU graduate who led T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, a racially divided school, to a 13-0 record and the state football title in 1971. A movie, “Remember The Titans” starring Denzel Washington, was made about Coach Boone’s team.
Willie Bradshaw, known by most everyone around Durham as a man who positively impacts many young lives, played football and baseball at NCCU. He later was longtime Durham City Schools’ athletic director.
Winning All-Conference honors in football at NCCU from 1974 to 1976, Louis Breeden went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL, and was a starting cornerback in the 1982 Super Bowl with the Cincinnati Bengals.
After being named an All-American in football at NCCU in 1988, Robert Massey played 10 seasons as a defensive back in the NFL, making the 1992 Pro Bowl. Massey later came back to NCCU as an assistant football coach and is now the head man at Shaw University.
After serving in World War II and being awarded 3 bronze stars, Robert “Stonewall” Jackson played football at North Carolina A&T. He then became the first black football player from a historically black college to be drafted by the NFL, as the New York Giants did in 1950. Jackson scored two touchdowns for the Giants in his rookie season. Later in his life Jackson served NCCU in many capacities, among them as a football coach and physical education teacher for many years.
Elisha Marshall was NCCU’s first female national champion when she won the NCAA Division II 100-meter dash in 1998. Von Fulmore had perhaps the greatest single game in NCCU women’s basketball history in 1986 when she scored 41 points and grabbed 32 rebounds in a game against UNC Asheville. For that season, Fulmore averaged 25 points and 18 rebounds a game.
Michelle Harrison ranks as one of the beat all-round athletes in NCCU history. Harrison was all-conference and all-American in basketball in the late 1990s, along with being named conference player of the year in softball. She was also on the conference all-academic team.
Charles Foster finished fourth in the high hurdles at the 1976 Olympic games, just missing a medal. He was NCAA hurdles champion at NCCU. Charles “Tex” Harrison played basketball at NCCU from 1950 to 1954 and then became a player and later coach for the Harlem Globetrotters. Doug Wilkerson was an all-American football player at NCCU in 1969 and was drafted in the first round by the Houston Oilers. Wilkerson went on to play in several Pro Bowls with the San Diego Chargers.
In 1950 Harold Hunter, star basketball player from NCCU, became the first black man to sign an NBA contract when he was signed by the Washington Capitals. Hunter later became a very successful head coach at Tennessee State University and was named to the staff of the 1968 Olympic basketball team, becoming the first black man so honored.
There is no question, worthy names are left off this list simply because of limited space. But as you can see, NCCU has an athletic tradition to rival any college in the nation, and that legacy continues today. One of the biggest wins in school history was head coach Levelle Moton’s men’s basketball team’s victory over N.C. State earlier this season.
And Monday’s overtime win over Savannah State gave Moton’s Eagles their first Mid-East Athletic Conference regular-season championship since joining NCAA Division I.