Color barrier in sports breaks down slowly
Commentary by Dwight Lewis
Some messages you just hate to receive. Such was the case yesterday when I received an e-mail from a high school classmate informing me and others that a famed Knoxville Austin High School basketball player had died in Cincinnati.
Paul Hogue, 69, was more than just a famed high school basketball player. He was special. He was also a historical figure â€” even though one who had been out of the limelight for many years.
In 1958, when Hogue â€” who was 6-foot-9 â€” graduated from Knoxville's Austin High School, he was shunned by athletic recruiters from top Southern colleges.
"When I graduated from high school, I guess it was a time when you took things for granted,'' Hogue told me during a telephone interview back in February 1987. "It was just the way things were back then.
"You dreamed, but you dreamed about faraway places. You looked beyond the South. You looked to places like Kansas, where Wilt Chamberlain played basketball, and New York. You didn't put a lot of emphasis on Southern teams.''
Hogue, who died on Monday in Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati, said when he graduated from high school that one Knoxville sportswriter, Tom Siler of The Knoxville News-Sentinel, wrote an article that raised the question of why the University of Tennessee did not consider recruiting players from Austin High â€” which was an all-black high school â€” since UT's basketball team was struggling.
"I never heard a word from UT,'' Hogue told me.
Since staying home and playing for the University of Tennessee was not possible â€” UT would not have a black athlete until Nashville's Lester McClain signed a scholarship to play football there in 1967 â€” Hogue signed scholarship papers to play basketball for the University of Cincinati.
"Cincinnati was close enough to home not to get homesick, yet it was far enough away to where I couldn't go home just any time,'' he said.
"Plus, on a visit there I met Oscar Robertson, who was a sophomore on Cincinnati's team, and I decided that I would like to play with him.''
At the University of Cincinnati, Hogue became the school's first black captain in his senior year.
That same year, the 1961-62 basketball season, Hogue led the Bearcats to the NCAA national championship. They defeated UCLA, 72-70, in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, and Ohio State, 71-59, in the finals.
Hogue, the most valuable player of the NCAA tournament, was named by the Helms Athletic Foundation as college basketball's player of the year in 1962. The foundation summed up Hogue's contributions this way:
"Not a prolific scorer, Paul Hogue was nevertheless a tower of strength in the Bearcats' all-around play, both on offense and defense.''
When I last talked to Hogue in 1987, he was supervisor of the employee assistance program for the U.S. Postal Service in Cincinnati.
During that conversation, Hogue talked about the changes that had taken place after he left Knoxville to play big-time college basketball.
"Back then, when I was at Cincinnati, we went to Houston to play, and blacks couldn't stay in certain hotels,'' he said. "At the airport in Birmingham, on our way to Houston, we were confronted with separate restroom facilities for blacks and whites.
"It's good to remember those things, because it keeps things in perspective.''
Hogue, also a former All-American but who was unable to stick in professional basketball, told me in February 1987 â€” when I was working on a story about the fact that there were no black head basketball coaches in the Southeastern Conference â€” that a lesson from his situation is that an athlete should not put all of his or her eggs in one basket.
And I might add here that Hogue wasn't the best basketball player on his high school team, at a school where his father served as principal. He was very good but he also had good grades, which enabled him to get into the University of Cincinnati.
Just a little history as we look at the makeup these days, not only of UT's athletic teams but other big-time Southern programs. My, how some things have changed â€” but still not enough.