BLACK HISTORY MONTH: True Blue Pioneers

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(MURFREESBORO) In conjunction with February's Black History Month observances, Middle Tennessee State University 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 during a special ceremony before MTSU's men's basketball game against North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 6.

From 2-4 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom, 1768 MTSU Blvd., a special public forum will allow the honorees to share their athletics stories and answer attendees' questions. This event is free. For parking details, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/parking/permit.php online.

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A reception for the honorees 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 Murphy Center.

"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."

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MTSU Athletics Director Chris Massaro said they "are thrilled to bring these pioneers back to campus so our MTSU students and our student-athletes can hear their stories first-hand."

"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," Massaro said. "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 MTSU 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 at Bellwood Elementary School."

"I think, for the most part, we weren't making a statement," Hayes added. "I just wanted someone who could run, jump and throw, and (former MTSU 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."

The honorees

• Jerry Singleton was the first African American scholarship athlete at MTSU in any sport. Singleton, from Chicago, Illinois, 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 MTSU for decades.

• Art Polk was one of the first two scholarship African American men's basketball players to sign with MTSU in 1965. Willie Brown, now deceased, was the other. Polk came from Kansas City, Missouri. He will be in Africa and unable to attend the ceremony.

• Lonnell Poole signed with MTSU in 1966 and was the second black scholarship athlete in men's track, joining Singleton. A state champion hurdler at Chicago's Bloom Township High School, Poole started the outstanding winning tradition for hurdlers at MTSU.

• Terry Scott was the third black scholarship men's basketball player at MTSU. He signed in 1966 with Trickey and also ran track for Hayes.

Now 71, Scott, who lives in Muskogee, Oklahoma, looks forward to spending time with the honorees and a number of friends and teammates planning to attend as well. They include Sam McCamey of California, Derry Cochran of Cummings, Georgia, Jimmy Drew of Springfield, Illinois, Mason Bonner of Alabama and Stan Summerall of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"I felt comfortable at Middle," said Scott, a Cleveland, Tennessee, native, who later was an assistant at Oral Roberts with Trickey, three-time state championship high school coach with 465 victories and 40-year educator. "I was recognized by my ability, not by the color of my skin. Plus, with my religious background, it was meant for me to be here."

• J.W. Harper was one of the earliest African American football players at MTSU. 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 black scholarship players on the 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 MTSU. She was the first female African American athlete in the pre-scholarship era from 1971-74. A loyal alumna, Secrest remains heavily involved with the university to this day.

MTSU has more than 300 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.

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