The weekend you earned it!

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know thyself

For many people the weekend represent a sense of freedom, time to spend finishing those long delayed projects around the house, visiting relatives and friends , piling the food onto those plates at the cookout and so on. For me the past eight weeks I decided to invest my time wisely balancing travel, family and work by contributing to  two worthy causes.

The decision to volunteer my time with two youth programs that drive a passion within to make a positive impact was easy, especially given the current pulse of the nation.  For the past six years I along with a group of  dedicated men in the community organize a summer basketball league that serves close to 200 youths. The league serves as an outlet for many of the participants and coaches and helps to strengthen neighborhood ties.

However it’s the second project , one that that afforded me the opportunity to interact with another group of youths that impacted my life. The program is called “Know thyself” and is the brainchild of Salih Rowe .  Salih is a young man on a mission to improve the quality of life for young black boys as  they prepare to face the roadblocks and challenges of entering into manhood. The program is  funded entirely through the generosity of individuals and organizations that see the value of the work being done; allowing for the participants to attend at no cost and receive a meal.

young lions

For the last eight Saturday morning the “young lions” meet with older black  males  for two hours to discuss and analyze a variety of topics including the responsibility of men as protectors of the family, finance, education, relationships with law enforcement and the media’s influence.  I have to share that I eagerly looked forward to awakening and jumping out of bed on Saturday mornings with the same excitement I displayed as a boy awaiting my favorite cartoons. We engaged in serious dialogue, complete with guest speakers, media clips , literature and supportive materials. It is these type of conversations that do not happen often enough with our young men, until its too late.

As I sat and listened to Salih wrap up the final topic and call for the  last weekly “squad photo” I suddenly felt a feeling of emptiness at the realization the program was over and the secret wish for more time rushed in.  The boys said their goodbyes as they filed out one by one, thanking the older men for their presence and willingness to sacrifice a Saturday morning to spend time with them, the change and transformation of those eight weeks was evident on their faces. I don’t know if any of the adults will ever truly to see the fruits of our labor, but I am confident the seeds of greatness were planted and the future of these young lions is as bright as the morning sun  rising on the Savannah.

Forgotten Heroes of Horse Racing

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Isaac Murphy's grave at the Kentucky Horse Park
Isaac Murphy’s grave at the Kentucky Horse Park

Most famous of the black jockeys by far is Isaac Murphy who is considered one of the greatest riders in American history. He was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys and won an astonishing 44% of all races he rode. That record has not been approached by any other jockey since. He was the first jockey to be inducted into the Jockey Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing. Sadly, his career was cut short at the age of 34 when he died of pneumonia. He always had trouble staying at the light weight demanded of a jockey and was known to binge and purge. It has been speculated that it was vomit backing up in his lungs that caused the pneumonia which led to his death. He is buried next to Man O’ War in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington

Willie Simms was a superb rider of the late 19th century. He brought winning mounts to the wire 24.8% of the time.Simms was born in 1870 in Augusta, GA, and began riding at East Coast tracks in 1887. During his career he rode for the most prominent owners of the era, including Mike and Phil Dwyer, Richard Croker, Pierre Lorillard, August Belmont, and James R. Keene.Simms won back-to-back Belmont Stakes in 1893-94 aboard Commanche and Henry of Navarre. He also was a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby aboard Ben Brush and Plaudit and was the only African-American jockey to win the Preakness, aboard Sly Fox in 1898. One of Simms’ most dramatic races was a match between Dobbin and Domino in 1893. Simms and Dobbin finished in a dead heat with the previously unbeaten Domino.Simms found great success riding the New York circuit in the 1890’s. He also briefly rode in England in 1895. Many sources credit Simms with introducing the British to the short stirrup style of riding later popularized by Tod Sloan.Willie Simms was the nation’s leading jockey in 1894. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1977.

Swaps and Shoemaker in the San Vicente, © 1955 Santa Anita Photo; Willie Simms © Keeneland Library 


Unsung Sports Pioneers

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In keeping with the theme of “Black History” Month the shortest month of the year to acknowledge the important contributions of the Black Race. Over the next few weeks I will profile some “Unsung Sports Heroes” individuals that many of you may have forgotten or never heard of. Enjoy

Willie Thrower
Ht/Wt: 5-11/182,Team(s): Chicago Bears, Toronto Argonauts (CFL), and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) (Signed as F\A in 1952 by Chicago Bears)
College: Michigan State 

Chicago Bears QB Willie Thrower became the first African-American quarterback to solely play quarterback in an NFL game on October 18, 1953 against the San Francisco 49ers. He played under center and received the snap directly, making him the first African American QB since Pollard in 1923. Thrower a native of New Kensington, Pennsylvania had already been the first African American QB in the Big 10 conference, playing for Michigan State from 1950 to 1952, helping them win the National Championship in 1952. In his historical game, Thrower went 3 for 8 for 27 yards in a 35 to 28 loss. What was unfortunate about the game was George Blanda, who had struggled was reinserted into the game at the 5 yard line to complete a drive Thrower had started. After his debut against the 49ers, Thrower never appeared in another NFL game. Before the next season Thrower, who made the Bears team in 1953 as basically a “walk-on” was cut the following year in 1954. Thrower wanting to play QB and without any other takers in the NFL decided to go to the Canadian Football League, playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and semi pro in Toronto for four years before injuries shortened his career. He retired at age 27. His feat of a black man playing quarterback was considered such an oddity for the time that “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” featured him in a story. Thrower had a good outlook on his brief time at QB in the NFL and told The Valley News Dispatch of Tarentum, Pa., before he passed away in 2002. “I look at it like this: I was like the Jackie Robinson of football. A Black quarterback was unheard of before I hit the pros,”

 Photo and info Courtesy of  The African American Quaterback Website