We’ll Play Both Or….

We’ll Play Both Or….

Dr. Martin Luther King’s admonition that “a man should be judged by his character not the color of his skin” came with the requirement, of accepting personal responsibility:

We are not responsible for the environment we are born in, neither are we responsible for our hereditary circumstances. but there is a third factor for which we are responsible, namely the personal response which we make to those circumstances. And so, the challenge which confronts all of us is to respond to our circumstances with strength and courage rather than weakness and despair.” i

King refused to allow bitterness to stymie his ambition to right society’s shortcomings when he stated, “Not environment, not heredity, but personal response is the final determining factor in our lives. And herein lies our area of responsibility.”

Identity Politics

Dr. King would abhor the Identity politics of the Left that “aims to divide us into balkanized, competing groups, suspicious of one another and in constant conflict. The Left uses identity politics not to benefit minorities but as a calculated strategy to sustain their currency of minority victimhood.” ii

Be assured the solution to identity politics that is ripping the moral fabric of our society will neither come from Washington, DC nor a Federal Court. It is going to have to come from Main Street and the likes of my high school basketball coach, Norman Price. I witnessed the needed antidote in December of 1963.

Seacrest HS - Delray Beach, Florida

My high school, Seacrest HS in Delray Beach, integrated in 1961 but we did not have black athletes until 1963. Our JV basketball team included two of the first athletes of color to participate in the Suncoast Conference, which was comprised of Palm Beach County and Glades County. Our first road game that season was in Pahokee, Florida.

Coach Norman Price

I was privileged to be on Coach Price’s Seacrest Seahawks basketball team for two years. Straightforward and a man of his word, he impacted the lives of so many by the example he set. If there ever was an example to be followed it would be in Pahokee, Florida. Coach Price, who was also the Athletic Director, and JV Coach John Hardage spoke to both black athletes prior to the trip. Only one of them chose to play that night. The country was in turmoil only two months after President Kennedy’s assassination and racial tensions were simmering. Lincoln Thomas chose to make that historic trip, with strength and courage as his allies. A quiet person, he did his talking between the lines on the basketball court.

There Was No Entourage

Lincoln Thomas was only fifteen years old, doing something that no person of color had ever done - stepping into the arena of athletic competition in Pahokee, Florida. His only supporters were his teammates on both the varsity and JV teams, Coach Price, Coach Hardage, and a handful of parents. No special interest groups accompanied him. I still cannot fathom how much courage it must have taken for him to step onto that court. The Pahokee Blue Devils were located on Lake Okeechobee in a rural farming community. They called us “cake eaters” implying that we were soft city boys. Racist elements abounded and the presence of the Klan was well known in Florida.

A hostile environment at best, Lincoln’s courage embodied Dr King’s admonition that personal response was the determining factor in one’s life, not environment.

We’ll Play Both or We Won’t Play Either

Coach Price taught us discipline above all else. We learned that there was no easy way, or shortcuts. There was one way only and that was the right way. Norman Price demonstrated that right way that December night when the Pahokee coach stated “we would play the varsity game but not the JV game.” JV Coach Hardage told us later that Coach Price didn’t blink an eye when he stated, “We’ll play both or we won’t play either.”

The JV game was prior to the varsity game. The gymnasium was cleared of spectators and only the teams and officials were present. Both Seahawk teams came ready to play and the “cake eaters” from Delray Beach ran the Blue Devils out of the gym in both the JV and Varsity game.

Epilogue

Lincoln Thomas would receive All Suncoast Conference honors by his senior year, while demonstrating in his quiet, dignified way that “a man should be judged by his character not the color of his skin.”

In the ensuing years busing became prevalent. The Seacrest Seahawks became the Delray Atlantic Eagles. Political realities required that either the football coach or the basketball coach be of color. Coach Price stepped down from the job he loved and was born to do and finished his career as Athletic Director. He also taught American history when it was taught in our public schools, as well as a six-week course that was a graduation requirement, “Americanism vs. Communism.” Coach Carney Wilder would be promoted to head football coach and the Delray Atlantic Eagles would become a football powerhouse in the Suncoast Conference.

Washington, that is the right way, the Coach Norman Price way!

i D.C. McAllister, Martin Luther King, Jr. Tells Us to Take Personal Responsibility, Not Blame Others, January 15, 2018

ii David Limbaugh, Guilty by Reason of Insanity, page 12.

 

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