In conjunction with February being Black History Month, Middle Tennessee is honoring eight former student-athletes for being True Blue Pioneers.
Former Raiders Jerry Singleton, Art Polk, Lonnell Poole, Terry Scott, J.W. Harper, Ray Bonner, Ed Miller and Mary "Beanie" Secrest will be honored for their contributions to Blue Raider Athletics at a special ceremony prior to MT's men's basketball game against North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 6.
"I am proud we will honor and celebrate these trailblazing pioneers," MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said. "Their hard work and personal courage made history — not only for athletics, but our entire university. I am pleased our current students will have the opportunity at this event to connect with these MTSU legends."
From 2-4 p.m. in the Student Union Building ballroom, a special public forum will allow the honorees to share their athletics story and attendees to ask questions. Then, a reception will be held at the Rose and Emmett Kennon Sports Hall of Fame at 5 p.m. before the eight Blue Raider legends are recognized at halftime of the basketball game, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Murphy Center.
"We are thrilled to bring these pioneers back to campus so our MTSU students and our student-athletes can hear their stories first-hand," Director of Athletics Chris Massaro said. "Additionally, we as a Blue Raider Community need to formally thank these individuals for their commitment to be Blue Raiders and to graduate from here. These pioneers are an important piece of our institutional history. Their stories should be captured and recorded so generations to come will appreciate the efforts of these individuals to integrate our great institution. This celebration will be a great addition as we celebrate Black History Month."
The former student-athletes came to Middle Tennessee at a time when the racial divide was still strongly felt in the U.S., especially in the South.
Legendary Blue Raiders track and field coach Dean Hayes was hired in 1965 and remembers the honorees and their time at MT fondly. He signed and coached several of them and said it was an honor working alongside Massaro and Varsity Club Director Jim Simpson in finding a way to recognize these special individuals.
"This goes back to yesteryear, and it was a different time and, in some ways, a different world," Hayes said. "The year my wife and I first came here was the first year they integrated the schools, and she taught over at Bellwood Elementary School.
"I think, for the most part, we weren't making a statement. I just wanted someone who could run, jump and throw, and [former MT basketball coach] Ken Trickey wanted someone who could score a lot of points or get a lot of rebounds. To us, we were just trying to find athletes. I don't think either of us were signing our athletes to make some kind of statement."
Here's a little more about each honoree:
Jerry Singleton was the first African American scholarship athlete at MT in any sport. Singleton, from Chicago, was the Ohio Valley Conference champion in the 800 meters in 1969 and, at one time, had the second-fastest time ever in the 660-yard run. He set records on the track that lasted at Middle Tennessee for decades.
Art Polk was one of the first two scholarship African American men's basketball players to sign with Middle Tennessee in 1965. Willie Brown, now deceased, was the other. Polk hailed from Kansas City, Missouri.
Lonnell Poole signed with Middle Tennessee in 1966 and was the second African American scholarship athlete in men's track, joining Singleton. A state champion hurdler at Bloom Township High School in Chicago, Poole started the outstanding winning tradition for hurdlers at MT.
Terry Scott was the third African American scholarship men's basketball player at Middle Tennessee. He signed in 1966 with head coach Ken Trickey and also ran track for Dean Hayes.
J.W. Harper was one of the earliest African American football players at MT. He took a redshirt season in 1968 and played from 1970-72. He also played one year of basketball on the freshman team.
Ray Bonner and Ed Miller were the first two scholarship African Americans on the Blue Raiders football team. They signed scholarships in 1969 and would go on to become members of the famed "Mod Squad" defensive backfield, named after the popular TV show of the same name.
Mary "Beanie" Secrest played basketball and volleyball and ran intramural track at Middle Tennessee. She was the first female African American athlete in the pre-scholarship era from 1971-74. A loyal alumna, Secrest remains heavily involved with Middle Tennessee to this day.