Sports History Brief
Benedict College embarks on its 130th year of educating and preparing youths to become productive citizens. The college also has hopes of continuing a tradition in sports that began 93 years ago. Since its founding in 1870, Benedict has vigorously pursued prominence and achievement on the athletic fields and the classrooms. A marriage that still exists as the college enters the 21st century
Benedict was without any organized sports program for the first 37 years of its existence. However, the students enjoyed some form of recreation. Although founded to train teachers and preachers among the new freedmen, the Benedicts ~ founders of the school ~ were non-the less in deep sympathy with a play program that had recreation and physical well being as its end results.
The intercollegiate history of sports at Benedict began officially in 1907 when Professor Ralph Fleming Bates, who came to the school from Colgate University in 1907 and became the college's first intercollegiate coach, organized the first baseball team.
Although baseball reigned as the most popular sport on campus and in the nation, football began to catch on as the most prestigious sport among the nation's colleges. The results were its introduction at Benedict.
Bates, who played football at Colgate, formed the first team in 1911 and was the team's quarterback for its first two seasons. Under his guidance, the fundamentals of the sport were learned and the seeds for the perpetuation of the sports at Benedict were planted.
The college chose purple and gold as its colors and the Deacon as the team's mascot. During the first two years, the Deacons experienced lots of growing pains, but there were some bright spots in the play of Richard Howard and John Dowel.
From 1913 through 1916, the Deacons did not have a regular coach. Despite that fact, Benedict did field teams during those years with faculty members acting as coaches.
It was during that period that Benedict joined the Georgia-South Carolina Athletic Conference. While members of the GSCAC, the Deacons had seven players to be named All-Conference. They were Robert Smith, Charlie Peril, Swan Rhodes, Cruel Montgomery, Blaine Rowe, Daniel Hooper and Carter Starnacker.
In 1917, intercollegiate competition was suspended because of World War I. There had been a manpower drain at the school since the inception of hostilities in 1914; and by 1917, the young men attending Benedict were radically reduced.
The Deacons' football program resumed in 1918 and W.D. Prince was named coach. The team boasted only 15 players. But even so, Benedict won four of its five encounters behind the outstanding play of Tracy Walton, Thomas Woodson and Thomas Cherry.
Prince's tenure ended after one season. In 1919, Dana Arbourough was named coach of the Deacons. He guided the Deacons to a 6-1 record his first season and the momentum carried into the next season when Benedict enjoyed its first unbeaten season. Among those who experienced the Deacons' wrath were South Carolina State, Johnson C. Smith and Livingstone.
Benedict repeated its undefeated feats for the next three seasons and climaxed the 1923 and 1924 seasons by going unscored on. Quarterback Cecil Williams, reputed to be the greatest athlete ever to attend Benedict, engineered the awesome attack.
Strong supporting roles were played by Heyward Chappelle, who later became a medical doctor and practiced in Columbia, and Jack Williams, who later coached at Benedict before becoming one of the founders of the now defunct Victory Savings Bank, one of the first black-owned banks in the nation.
Other ingredients that spiced the Deacons' attack were Ed Graham, Spurgeon Johnson, Tom Jones, Cammillus Woodson, Theodore Johnson, Johns McCracken, Wade Denley and McField Graham.
It appeared the Deacons were on their way to building a dynasty among black colleges. But it was not to be. The 1925 team was so-so and for the next four years, Benedict was humiliated by its foes.
In 1930 William Gunn, a disciple of the double-wing attack, took the helm and it was during his tenure that Benedict entered the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). The Deacons were affiliated with that body until the late 1980s when Athletic Director Willie Washington severed the tie and joined the Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (EIAC).
At that time the SIAC members were Tuskegee, Florida A&M, Morehouse, Morris Brown, Knoxville, South Carolina State, Alabama State and Clark (now Clark-Atlanta).
Gunn's team were mediocre record-wise, but his double-wing offense produced a pair of Deacons' most colorful runners in David Woodson and Walter Dean, whose feats on the gridiron became legendary. Dean would later coach Benedict's football team.
Gunn departed after the 1933 season and Red Smith took over. His tenure lasted only two seasons. J.E. Briggs replaced Smith in 1936. In his rookie season, the Deacons finished with a break-even 4-4 record and in 1937, Benedict enjoyed its first winning season in five years with a 5-3 slate.
Briggs had able athletes in Ralph Pughley, who later owned a pharmacy in Laurens, SC, Zack Embry, Wes Brown, Wilson Simpkins, stepson of one of Benedict's most illustrious alumnae, Mojeska Simpkins, and Alex "Pete" Walker.
In 1938, Dean became the head football coach. In his first season, he produced a 52-1 slate. It was the beginning of the golden age of football at Benedict. This was also the year the students voted to change the name of the mascot from Deacons to Tigers.
Dean transformed a so-so Tiger team into a juggernaut during his two-year tenure. Benedict became the terror of the SIAC and its players dominated the All-Conference teams. The Tigers' marquee player was LeRoy "Po-Belly" Walker, who would later become Chancellor at North Carolina Central University and coach of a United States Olympic track and field team. He would also become the driving force for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Games, which featured world-class track and field athletes.
Walker, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for the 1966 Games in Atlanta, was the first Tiger to be named to an All-American team. Other outstanding players on Dean's squad were Leroy Fair, considered by some to be the best pass receiver to ever attend Benedict, John Anderson, Charles Brooks, George Sheats, James Moultrie and David Young.
Leslie Stallworth succeeded Dean in 1940 and was the Tigers' mentor through the 1941 season when World War II interrupted the sport. Raymond Hill, who later became a prosperous business in Savannah, GA, was Stallworth's star pupil. Hill, a center and linebacker, was named All-American during the 1941 season and also captured the top conference honor that year being named the league's MVP.
After World War II ended in 1945, Benedict cranked up its football team again this time with Rueben Turner as the head coach. Under Turner, the Tigers returned to the old single-wing attack and wreaked havoc on their foes. For the next eight years, Benedict (although it never won a football championship) was constantly among the top contenders for the SIAC crown.
During that span, numerous players were named to the All-Conference team and two, offensive guard Nathaniel "Slick" Hartman and tailback Fletcher Jones, were named to All-American teams. Jones, who later was an assistant coach at Benedict, held the NCAA small college punting record from 1949 until 1960. Jones, who also coached at Livingstone College, passed in the spring of 1998.
Others to attain honors during this period were Leslie Stallworth, nephew of former coach Stallworth, fullback Evans Gilmore, guard Nathaniel Drisker, quarterback Robert "Boogie" Donald and center Willis "Hoss" Bracy, who later returned to his alma mater in 1959 as coach until his death in 1963.
Among the more recent to make a name on the gridiron through the decade of the fifties and until the sports was terminated in 1966 were Leroy Huff, Leo Chester, Leroy DeBoard, the Robert "Jet" Johnson, Lucius "Scooter" Clark, Jimmy Greene, Bobby Treadwell, Herbert Pratt, Willie Minor and tailback Charles Benson, who Benedict fans compared to the Chicago Bears Gale Sayers.
Also tailback James Chandler, the first Benedict player to sign a NFL pact with the Green Bay Packers, Wilson "Whip" Walker, James Carter, Paul Williams, George Harrison, Bernard "Lumpy" Keels, Nat Singley, Johnny Brunson, Sam Cromer, James Gray and Claude Brownlee. Williams, Brunson, Brownlee and Gray went on to play in the NFL...Williams with the Atlanta Falcons, Brunson with the Houston Oilers, Gray with the Baltimore Colts and Brownlee with the Colts and the Miami Dolphins.
Williams, Harrison and Keels, who still had two years of eligibility after the sport was terminated, played out their eligibility at the University of California at Berkley. UC-Berkley, which had been an also-ran in the PAC-8, finished to Rose Bowl representative Southern Cal. Williams, a running back at UC-Berkley, joined Southern Cal's O.J. Simpson on the All-PAC-8 team in 1968.
All of the players who played pro football was coached by William R. "Red" Jackson, Benedict's last coach before football was dropped. Jackson replaced Penrose Parks, who named coach after Bracy's death in '63. Jackson had a mediocre first season before guiding the Tigers to a pair of 8-2 campaigns.
In 1966, Benedict dropped football after 55 years of participating in the sport. Rising cost and the draining of top black talents to white colleges were contributing factors. These along with the fact that it was becoming increasingly difficult for private Black Colleges, which had low athletic budgets, to compete favorably with the state-run colleges, which were in the majority in the SIAC.
With football, the school main spectator and revenue producing sports eliminated, basketball became the focus. However, it never gained the support of the alumni and fans that football had attracted.
Benedict resurrected the football program in 1995 after a 29-year absence. Harold Jackson, a former NFL All-Pro receiver, was named coach. He guided the Tigers to a pair of 3-6 seasons playing at the club level before resigning in January of 1997 to return to the NFL as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Saints.
Defensive coordinator, Julius Adams was elevated to the head coaching post in 1998 and had the honor of coaching the Tigers in their first varsity season since 1966. Adams lasted one year and resigned after a 3-8 season.
Benedict hired prep coaching sensation Willie "Tony" Felder in January of 1998. Felder brought glowing credentials to the post. He guided Fairfield Central to the South Carolina State AAA championship in 1997 and was named Coach of the Year. Felder had been named Coach of the Year at two other stops during his prep career.
During his first season, Felder fashioned a 4-7 worksheet, the most games won by a Tiger team since the sports was revived. During the 1999 season, Felder and the Tigers fashioned a 5-5 record, the first non-losing season.
Also in 1999, Washington stepped down as basketball coach. Ben Trapp, who had won a state basketball championship at Keenan High School and was runner-up for the title in 1999, was hired as basketball coach. Trapp, like Felder, brought a glowing calling card.