Black History Month 2021

The Allstate Sugar Bowl Sports Awards Committee Highlights the Careers of New Orleans Legends

NEW ORLEANS (February 26, 2021) – The Allstate Sugar Bowl Sports Awards Committee is highlighting the accomplishments of eight outstanding sports figures as it celebrates Black History Month this February. The sports figures, all members of the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, had careers which combined to span nearly 100 years of history. They include a pair of Olympic medalists, a record-setting volleyball player, an All-American scoring machine on the basketball court, a baseball star from the early days of the sport, an ageless tennis legend, one of the hardest hitting players in NFL history and a wordsmith who chronicled the achievements of these athletes and many more for over 60 years.

The Sugar Bowl will share these memorable stories via its social media channels throughout the month of February with posts each Wednesday and Friday at noon.

February 26 – R.L. Stockard
Russell “R.L.” Stockard was a ground-breaking publicist and writer that brought significant attention and recognition to Black athletes in Louisiana over his 60-plus year career. He was the first sports information director at Southern University, the first SID of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the first black correspondent to write for mainstream newspapers in Louisiana.

The 2008 recipient of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s Distinguished Service Award, Stockard was recognized with a National Association of Black Journalists’ Sports Task Force Sam Lacy Pioneer Award in 2009.

“I’ve lived a blessed life,” Stockard said. “I was always able to do what I wanted to do. You could write a script, and it still would never turn out this good.”

Stockard had a hand in several significant events in Louisiana sports history. He was a part of the so-called “secret” basketball game between Jesuit and St. Augustine high schools, the first integrated prep game played in the state; and he was also critical in the launching of the Bayou Classic, the annual football game between Southern and Grambling in New Orleans.

As the SID at Southern in the early-1950s, he persuaded the Baton Rouge State-Times to run stories about Southern athletes and their accomplishments – though he had to write the stories himself. When he moved to Southern’s New Orleans campus in 1960, the editor of the New Orleans States-Item enlisted Stockard to cover sporting events and athletes at the area’s HBCUs, as well as black high school sports. He also covered sports for Louisiana Weekly, the primary newspaper for Black news in the state.

In that role, Stockard was instrumental in putting together the historic 1965 basketball match-up between all-white Jesuit and all-black St. Aug. The two teams were widely recognized as being the best teams in Louisiana but they were barred from playing by segregation laws. With the well-respected Stockard behind the scenes, the two schools agreed to a “secret” game at Jesuit in the week before both teams’ respective state tournaments. The Purple Knights from St. Aug won 81-59 in a landmark moment in Louisiana sports.

Stockard became the first SID of the SWAC, then headquartered in New Orleans, where in the 1970s he also had a hand in putting together the first Bayou Classic with Grambling coach Eddie Robinson, Grambling SID and famed marketer Collie J. Nicholson and Southern athletic director U.S. Jones. It has become an annual football extravaganza in the Superdome.

“I guess, though I didn’t think of it in these terms at the time, I was kind of a pioneer,” Stockard said.

A native of Nashville, Stockard served in Europe in World War II and earned his degree in historical geography from Tennessee State. He started his career in government service in Washington, D.C., then taught for several years at Florida A&M before coming to teach at Southern. His last years were spent in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina, in which he walked waist-deep in water from his home in New Orleans East to the Superdome. He passed away on March 11, 2017, in Baton Rouge.

February 24 – Audrey “Mickey” Patterson
Audrey “Mickey” Patterson-Tyler won a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1948 Olympic Games in London to become the United States’ first black woman to win an Olympic medal. Born in New Orleans, Patterson attended Danneel Elementary School and Gilbert Academy (which closed in 1949 and was located on the site of the current De La Salle High School).

A chance encounter set Patterson on her path to greatness. In 1944, legendary Olympian Jesse Owens spoke at Patterson’s school. He said, “There is a boy or girls in this audience who will go to the Olympics.” And Patterson felt that he was talking directly to her, despite the fact that African Americans in general, and Black women specifically, had limited opportunities in athletics at this time.

She worked relentlessly on the track and attended Wiley College in Texas, winning the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes at the prestigious Tuskegee Relays. She capped the season by winning the AAU Indoor National Title in the 220-yard event. However, she suffered a ruptured appendix and the whites-only hospital in Marshall, Texas, refused to treat her. That experience led to her transferring to Tennessee State University in Nashville. In 1948, she would set an American record in the 220-yard dash at 26.4 seconds.

At the 1948 Olympic Trials in Providence, R.I., Patterson nearly missed her opportunity to compete. She managed to burn her leg with an iron in the morning and then was accidentally, or deliberately, depending on the account, locked in the dressing room. Her coach found her just in time for her to race to the starting line and she blazed to a 25.3 second time in the 200-meters to win Gold. She also placed second in the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.4 seconds (the first loss of her career).

The 200-meter dash was a thrilling race at the London Olympics with a photo-finish for places two through four. It was eventually determined that Patterson had finished third, making her the first Black women from the United States to earn a medal. The following day, Alice Coachman became the first Black female Gold medal winner when she won the high jump.

“When I learned that I had placed, it was the greatest feeling that you could possibly have,” she said. “’This is it,’ I thought. Never in my life could I feel so happy.”

Upon returning to the United States, she met President Truman at a White House reception, but sadly, the New Orleans Times-Picayune failed to acknowledge that Patterson was a New Orleanian in its Olympic coverage. Two afternoon newspapers in the city, The States and The Item, did make the New Orleans connection.

“I try to be humble, like a good Christian,” Patterson-Tyler told The Item. “But when I see my name (among Olympic medalists), I just crinkle all over. Please forgive me, God.”

To add to the indignities for the Olympic medalist, she was not allowed to train in City Park due to the color of her skin. However, Loyola University director of athletics Jim McCafferty, also a Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Famer, offered Loyola’s facilities for her training.

In 1949, she had another undefeated season on the track and was named the nation’s top female athlete by the Amateur Athletic Union.

Following her collegiate career, there were no opportunities for athletes to make money through competition and Patterson went into education. In 1964, she and her husband, Ronald Tyler, moved to San Diego where she continued teaching, and where she would become an important figure in the development of young runners. In 1965, she set up a track club known as Mickey’s Missiles. It began as a girls club but soon accepted boys as well. She started the club with just three girls but it would grow to feature more than 125 young runners. Two of her runners – would represent the United States in the Olympic Games – Jackie Thompson (200 meters, 1972) and Dennis Mitchell ((100 meters, 1988, 1992, 1996). It is estimated that Patterson-Tyler mentored over 5,000 young competitors during her time with the club.

Patterson, who was born September 27, 1926, died on August 23, 1996 at the age of 69. In addition to being inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1978, she was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. She was also named Woman of the Year by multiple groups including the city of San Diego, the AAU and the Press Club of San Diego.

MORE READING:Audrey Patterson Tyler set the London Olympics on fire”, Louisiana Weekly, July 23, 2012
Mickey Patterson-Tyler: Legendary track star”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 8, 2020

February 19 – Aaron James
To many who remember the infant days of the New Orleans Jazz, he was fondly known as “A.J. From the Parking Lot.”

Aaron James stood a sturdy 6 feet, 8 inches and was designated as the fledgling team’s “small” forward.

From the rough streets of New Orleans’ 11th Ward, James began a basketball career at the Dryades Street YMCA that took him to All-American honors at Grambling State University, then onto the professional ranks and into three halls of fame. He learned the game quickly by playing against some of the most skilled African American athletes in the city, including former professional Bruce Seals and James “Shirt” Williams of Booker T. Washington, Bobby Bissant of Xavier Prep and Clark’s Rodney Tureaud.

At Cohen, James led the state in scoring with a 30-point average, at Grambling he led the nation in scoring during the 1973-74 season with 32.1 points per game. He scored 2,251 career points and became a three-time All-SWAC selection, including the honor of the conference’s Freshman of the Year Award.

The professional world became familiar with the tall, skinny kid in 1974 when the fledgling New Orleans Jazz drafted James in the second round of the 1974 draft.

James said he was delightfully surprised when his hometown Jazz called his name.

“All indications were that the (New York) Knicks were going to draft me,” he said. “I knew that they and Chicago was interested, but, as it turned out, it couldn’t get any better. I wasn’t even aware that (the Jazz) were interested.”

James gave the NBA five productive years as the Jazz’ second most popular player to Pete Maravich then retired in 1979 when the franchise moved to Utah after 356 games in which he averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

After playing professionally in Italy and the Philippines, James returned to Grambling to get his master’s degree in sports administration. He then served as head coach and a physical education instructor at Jarvis Christian, a small, independent college in Hawkins, Texas.

He later returned to Grambling as head basketball coach, assistant women’s coach and assistant athletic director. He was Grambling’s director of athletics from 2011-2014. He has also been active in the NBA Retired Players Association.

Even today, James cannot shake the moniker Jazz broadcaster “Hot Rod” Hundley gave him 38 years ago. “I’ll go some place and someone will recognize me and say, ‘There’s A.J. from the Parking Lot.’”

The name was a product of his propensity to shoot from well behind the foul line before the NBA adopted the three-point line. Had there been one present during his seasons, James might have had a higher scoring average, but lower shooting percentage.

“I don’t know if I would have shot three-pointers as many times at Pistol (Maravich), but I would have gotten a crack at a few opportunities.”

February 17 – Dr. Thomas Hill
Dr. Thomas Hill, who developed into one of the best hurdlers in the world as well as a well-respected academic leader on multiple college campuses, grew up in the Magnolia Housing Project and attended Cohen High School, where he was a standout high jumper, earning a scholarship to Arkansas State.

It was at Arkansas State that Hill became an elite hurdler. He was a five-time NCAA All-American and the 1970 NCAA indoor champion in the 60-yard hurdles. At a U.S. Track and Field Federation meet in Wichita in 1970, Hill posted a world-record time of 13.1 seconds in the prelims of the 110-meter hurdles. Unfortunately meet officials weren’t prepared for his excellence and they had not activated the wind gauge, denying him the official record. In the finals, he posted a time of 13.2 seconds to match the official record.

He was the number one ranked hurdler in the world in 1970, but he tore his ACL in a December meet. At a time when an ACL injury was devastating to athletes’ careers, Hill rehabbed and didn’t compete during the 1971 season, but he returned for a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 1972.

He also continued to pursue his ultimate dream – the Olympics. Following the NCAA Championships in 1972, Hill earned Gold at the U.S. Olympic Trials, defeating 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist Willie Davenport and fellow Louisianan Rodney Milburn. In Munich, Hill would earn the Bronze medal (Milburn won Gold).

The 6-2 Hill had world records in the 60-meter high hurdles (7.3) second) and the 50-yard high hurdles (5.8 seconds) and also set a pair of NCAA records (110-meter high hurdles and the 60-yard high hurdles).

Hill, who was the Arkansas Amateur Athlete of the Year for three straight years (1970-72), was a member of the ROTC at Arkansas State and earned his bachelor of science as a distinguished military graduate in 1972. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served as an assistant coach and Adjutant General Officer at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, while still competing from 1972-76. He earned his master’s degree from C.W. Post on Long Island in 1976.

He would coach and serve as an assistant athletic director at Arkansas State, Tulane and Oklahoma before earning his doctorate from the University of Florida in 1985. With his full-time focus on overall college life, Dr. Hill served as the Dean for Student Services at Florida. He would go on to serve as the Senior Vice President of Student Affairs at Iowa State from 1997 until his retirement in 2016.

Hill is also a member of the Arkansas State Athletics Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. He was selected as a Distinguished Alumnus of Arkansas State University in 1989.

MORE READING: “Throwback Thursday“, Arkansas State Athletics, July 18, 2013
The Night a Hurdler’s World Record was Denied by an Imaginary Wind“, Coeur D’Alene Press, July 5, 2020

February 12 – Walter Wright
A star pitcher for Willow Junior High, McDonogh 35 High and Xavier University in New Orleans, Walter Wright later developed into an outstanding professional pitcher and outfielder in the Negro Leagues with the New Orleans Athletics, St. Raymond Crescent Stars and Black Pelicans during the period of 1930-40.

When his playing days ended, the well-educated Wright (in addition to his degree from Xavier in 1934, he earned a master’s degree from Duquesne and studied at Texas, Wayne State and Nicholls State) taught in New Orleans public schools and eventually became the director of continuing education.

He still remained very active in baseball, however, coaching Little League Baseball and working with youth groups through the Council of Social Agencies. In 1961, Wright had the distinction of winning three city championships with three different teams – 10, 11 and 12 year olds. In 1959, Wright organized the Oldtimers Baseball Club to preserve the memory of Negro League Baseball in New Orleans. The club, included as many as 150 former Negro League players and Wright served as the group’s president for 27 years. Through his efforts, Wright almost single-handedly kept alive the history of Negro League Baseball in New Orleans.

He died on March 4, 2002, at the age of 89.

February 10 – Javonne Brooks
During her four years at the University of New Orleans (1988-92), Javonne Brooks (now Brooks-Grant) not only established herself as the best volleyball player in UNO history, but she also proved herself to be one of the top volleyball players in the nation. In 2005, a 26-member media panel selected her as the Sun Belt Conference’s top all-time volleyball player as part of the conference’s 30th anniversary celebration.

Statistically, the excellence of Brooks is easy to quantify – she held the NCAA Division I career kills record until 1995 (and still ranks second all-time with 2,932); she ranks second all-time in NCAA single-season kills with 878 (1992); and she is third all-time nationally in kills per set with an average of 6.1 in 1992.

However, while the stats show her greatness, those who witnessed her in action talk reverently about her power.

“During one match, she went up and hit a ball so hard, the girl on the other side of the net couldn’t get out of the way fast enough and it broke her nose,” said Robin Martin, who played basketball at UNO during the Brooks-era and is now the SWA at the University of Cincinnati. “That made you understand how explosive she was. I don’t even think she realized it. Night-in, night-out, Javonne even surprised herself with her power.”

In addition to holding six UNO career records, Brooks was selected Louisiana Player of the Year three times (1989, 1990 and 1992) and was a first-team member of the All-Louisiana team for each of the four years she played at UNO.  Brooks’ school career records include career kills, career kills per set, career hitting percentage, career service aces, career blocks, and career blocks per game.

Brooks was selected first team All-American in 1992. Included among her many other honors are: 1989 Louisiana Newcomer of the Year, a five-time Sun Belt Player of the Week, four-time All-Region selection (1989-1992), and 1992 Sun Belt first-team selection. Before UNO rejoined the Sun Belt Conference, Brooks was chosen American South Player of the Week seven times and was selected to the American South all-tournament team both years she participated.

In 2012, she was presented with the Sam Lacy Pioneer Award by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). The award is given annually to sports figures based on their “contributions to their respected careers, but more importantly, their direct impact on the communities they served.”

February 5 – Nehemiah Atkinson
Born in Biloxi, Miss., in 1918, Nehemiah Atkinson was engaged by the sport of tennis at an early age after discovering it at the Dryades Street YMCA. Despite the realities of racial barriers during those times, Atkinson did not let them discourage his love of the game, developing into a standout player who would go on to give lessons to hundreds of young players from all different ethnic backgrounds. He spent 23 years as the Director of Tennis for the New Orleans Recreation Department, retiring in 1995. He was also an active volunteer with the American Tennis Association and then established the Nehemiah Atkinson Scholarship Foundation.

As a competitor, he won more than 15 Southern Singles Championships and several Silver Balls as a finalist at USTA National Championships. He represented Louisiana at Senior Cup competition earning many honors including serving as captain of the Southern 75’s team at the USTA Intersectional Team competition and the 1993 USPTR Player of the Year honor. He also captured the 1996 USPTR Men’s 70 singles title. Amazingly, Atkinson never let age affect his enjoyment of the game either. Still playing at a high-level into his 80s, he won four gold balls in national and international competition in 1999, including winning the National Hardcourt Championship (Men’s 80s Age Bracket) in San Diego. He played on the 1999, 2000 and 2001 United States Gardner Mulloy Cup Teams, winning the competition in 2001 to become world champions in the Men’s 80’s. In 2002, he won the Vets World Tennis Championship for Men’s Singles in the 80-and-up division in Perth, Australia.

Inducted into the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Southern Tennis Foundation Hall of Fame in 1997, Atkinson was the recipient of the inaugural Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award and the T. N. Touchstone Memorial Trophy presented annually to a Southern senior player who displays outstanding sportsmanship and support of tennis in the South.

Atkinson’s family moved to New Orleans just before the Great Depression. He was educated at the Thomy Lafon and J. W. Hoffman schools in New Orleans, and at the Louisiana Industrial Training High School in Farmerville. When World War II came, he served in the Army’s Black Corps of Engineers, building airstrips in Puget Sound, Wash., and Valdez, Alaska. After medic training, he sailed to the South Pacific and built airstrips in New Guinea, Buna Island and other locations in the Coral Sea.

Atkinson was part of a group that formed the New Orleans Hard Court Tennis Club to organize and increase play at the YMCA’s two courts and also at Xavier University’s two cement courts. He went on to teach a long line of young players in New Orleans. All while competing and becoming close with the likes of tennis legend Arthur Ashe.

He passed away on February 9, 2003.

MORE READING: “Jumping the Net” from Gambit Weekly, Dec. 9, 2002

February 3 – Rich Jackson, Football
Playing for the legendary coach Felix James, also a member of the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, at New Orleans’ Landry High School, Rich “Tombstone” Jackson showed his outstanding skills and determination as a 210-pound end. When a Landry sprinter beat Jackson in a 100-yard race, then chided him, “You’re too big to beat me,” Jackson spent the entire school year working on his speed. When track season came around, Jackson convinced Coach James he could match speed with the school’s best sprinter. And he did just that, outracing him to the finish line to earn a spot on the Bucs’ relay team.

But football would always be his primary pursuit. As a senior in 1959, he led Landry to the district championship and earned a spot on the Southern University football team. A four-year starter at linebacker and defensive end, he also saw time on offense for the powerhouse Jaguar team. He also didn’t forget his track roots – though not as a sprinter. He won seven SWAC track championships (four in the discus and three in the shot-put) and still holds the Louisiana collegiate shot-put record.

Undrafted after a productive career at Southern University, Jackson signed as a free agent with Oakland in 1966. He became a three-time All-Pro defensive end in five-plus seasons with the Denver Broncos, but a devastating knee injury in 1971 would end his career. Despite the brevity of his career, he was a charter member of the Broncos’ “Ring of Fame” at Mile High Stadium. In 1999, Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated, picked Jackson as one of his starting defensive ends on his all-time NFL team and in 2014, the Denver Post called him “the toughest Bronco who ever lived.”

“When I think of him, I think of pain,” Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson said. “I can remember he nailed me and knocked the breath out of me.”

“People want to know why they call me Tombstone. That’s the termination of life, a symbol of death, the end of the road — how you like that?” Tombstone told the Denver Post in 2014. “When I came to line up across somebody, I just had the mentality of ‘search and destroy.’ I would look straight through the linemen at the quarterback, and when I took off, it was just like the guys weren’t there. I had moves to eliminate that person. I prided myself that no one lineman could block me.”

In 67 games with the Broncos, he recorded 43 sacks according to the Broncos – that would average out to 10.3 sacks in today’s 16-game season.

In addition to the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame and the Broncos’ Ring of Fame, Jackson has been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

MORE READING: “The Toughest Bronco There Ever Was” from the Denver Post, Aug. 31, 2014

The Sports Awards Committee began in 1957 when James Collins spearheaded a group of sports journalists to form a committee to immortalize local sports history. For 13 years, the committee honored local athletes each month. In 1970, the Sugar Bowl stepped in to sponsor and revitalize the committee, leading to the creation of the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1971, honoring 10 legends from the Crescent City in its first induction class. To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, nominees must have excelled in the sports field in New Orleans or been born or raised in the city.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 99 Hall of Fame players, 51 Hall of Fame coaches and 19 Heisman Trophy winners in its 87-year history. The 2022 Allstate Sugar Bowl, which will feature top teams from the SEC and the Big 12, is scheduled to be played on January 1, 2022. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors thousands of student-athletes each year, while injecting over $2.7 billion into the local economy in the last decade.