Remembering Three Giants Of Italian Sports (Part Three)

By Alipio M. Terenzi
Updated: May 9, 2007

NOTE: Over the last two days, BASN has taken a look at a group of forgotten African-American sports pioneers who made numerous athletic contributions in Europe. Today, writer Alipio M. Terenzi concludes the three-part series with a look at Clarence W. Burks.

SEATTLE — Clarence W. Burks was one of the founders of the first baseball team in Florence, Italy. He played (as catcher) and managed the B.C. Firenze Braves, the team that won the 1949 Italian baseball championship.

Former outfielder and Italian national team player Luciano Nardi remembers “Mr. Burks” (as he was called by his players) asking his mother for permission so that the 16-year old Nardi could play in far-away Trieste.

Burks was passionate but patient in his coaching style, giving the young Italian players tons of much-needed advice. He was also an assistant manager of the first Italian national baseball team.

Burks’ Italian experience ended in 1954 when he moved to Liberia with his family.

Today’s basketball and baseball players in Italy are walking in the footsteps of Elliot van Zandt, Jimmy Strong, and Burks. These three African-Americans arrived in Italy to fight a war.

Like Caesar’s legions, they came, they saw, and they conquered. However, and most importantly, these three men also taught and inspired countless players and coaches in Italy and other countries.

They had little to go back to in the United States, so they chose to rebuild their futures in the company of men and women who would not discriminate against them.

It is thanks to them that men like Rudy Hackett and countless others have been able to play and coach basketball and baseball so successfully in Italy.

Van Zandt, Strong, and Burks laid the foundations for the huge gains that basketball and baseball have made in Europe since the 1960’s. The least we can do to repay them for their amazing accomplishments is to remember their names and their successes.

Thank you, Elliot, Jimmy; and Clarence.