COLUMBIA, SC — FIFTY-THREE YEARS WILL scramble the memory of almost any baseball player. Bloop singles of long ago become line drives to the gap today.
Members of the Allen University baseball team long since have forgotten most of the details from the 1960 season, their mental files gathering dust as they carried on with their lives over the past five decades.
One thing every member of that team remembers clearly, though, is that Allen won the 1960 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship. A trophy that sits encased at the Adams Gymnatorium on the Allen campus proves that, even though a history of the SIAC lists Florida A&M as the champion.
State Sen. Darrell Jackson plans to present a resolution on June 4 to the state Legislature recognizing Allen’s championship.
“It’s long overdue with the baseball team,” Jackson says. “It’s really sad they haven’t been recognized formally.”
James Greene was a pitcher on the ’60 club, Mathis Daniel was an outfielder and Willie Johnson was the team’s statistician. Their recollections all differ about how Allen’s season ended and how the Yellow Jackets brought home a conference championship.
It doesn’t help matters that scorekeeping and record keeping were sketchy back then. Additionally, newspapers of the time rarely, if ever, reported on the sporting events of historically black colleges. So, if someone said it happened, you pretty much had to take their word for it. And you could get at least three different versions of every situation.
One of the three aforementioned folks believes Allen embarked on an eight-game road trip through S.C. State, Florida A&M and Alabama A&M, winning enough games along the way to clinch the conference crown. Another believes there were only two stops on the season-ending trek and the title was clinched by winning two of three games first at Florida A&M. The other believes the Alabama A&M series came first and the title was secured later in Florida.
“We assumed we were champions,” says Greene, now 72 and retired in Columbia after a lengthy career with the Jewish Board of Family and Children in New York City. “I don’t recollect Florida A&M being named champion. I don’t know what transpired. There were quite a few stories going around. But Florida A&M did not actually win it. I don’t know what the circumstances were because we were told the Alabama games clinched it (for Allen).”
Greene shared the pitching duties with John Bates, William Drummond, Charles Styles, Israel Gist and Johnny Kinloch. Gist and Kinloch were the team’s captains. The outfield included Daniel, Bobby Young and Henry Nash. Infielders and catchers included James Rolle, Leroy Greggs, Glenn Davis, Frank Kennedy and Telefar Shields.
Only Davis from that team signed a professional contract, and he lasted one season covering 64 minor-league games in the Detroit and Cincinnati organizations. Most of the players saw baseball as a way to stay physically fit while they were in school and had no aspirations of playing the game beyond college.
Perhaps that is why the championship meant so much to the team then and continues to be a source of pride today. Winning a title was something they could carry with them for a lifetime, along with the tight camaraderie established by 15 or so black men during a segregated era.
Pete Hunter was the young coach of the team. His specialty was gymnastics, and like many coaches of the period, he took on another sport to help the athletics department budget. All SIAC budgets were tight at the time, so visiting teams often were housed on cots in the home team’s gymnasium. Traveling teams ate in the cafeteria of the host school.
The lone exception to those rules under Hunter occurred when Allen played games in Atlanta against Morehouse and Morris Brown. Hunter allowed for his team to dine at Paschal’s Restaurant, where leaders of the Civil Rights Movement such as Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy later gathered to discuss issues. Paschal’s was one of the first Atlanta restaurants to seat black and white customers together.
Daniel, 72 and a retired physical education teacher, coach and administrator now living in Jacksonville, says because of the travel and the experiences such as those in Atlanta, the team had the time of their lives.
“We played ball. We had a bunch of guys that could play,” Daniel says. “It just blended in together. We just were like one big, happy family.”
That happy family returned from its season-ending trip in multiple cars after the team bus had broken down somewhere in Florida. Not long after settling back into classes, the team gathered for its annual dinner. Jackets and letters were presented to each member by coach Hunter.
Then, Daniel recalls, Hunter presented a trophy to the team. It came with a wood base, a metal cup on top and a short statue of a baseball player in full bat swing. The inscription on the face of the trophy is still easy to decipher today. It reads:
Most trophies sit in cases to serve as a reminder of a team’s greatness. In this case, the trophy serves as verification that the Allen Yellow Jackets did indeed win the conference championship that year.
Team members knew it all along. Now, they are finally being recognized for it.