Honoring Central’s History

By Bonitta Best
Updated: December 10, 2009

DURHAM — Nine legends were honored at N.C. Central’s inaugural Trailblazers Gala ceremony, but the real star of the show was absent. Deceased now for 10 years, former coach John McLendon’s name was on everyone’s lips.

The legendary coach who invented the fast break and four-corner offense had a hand in the careers and lives of every member of the remaining eight honored last week at McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium.

Represented by his widow, Joanna, McLendon coached at NCCU from 1937-52. He guided the Eagles to six championships and 239 wins.

He was the first black coach hired at a predominately white university (Cleveland State) and the first coach of any color to win three consecutive NAIA championships (1957-59.)

“He’s with us here tonight because he loved N.C. Central,” Joanna McLendon said. Former coach Michael Bernard, who introduced coach McLendon’s credentials, received a surprise of his own.

The athletic department gave Bernard an award in recognition of the 20th anniversary of NCCU’s only Division II championship; a gesture that brought Bernard to tears.

“I really wasn’t expecting this. This is quite an honor,” he said.

The rest of the honorees: • Charles “Tex” Harrison (1950-54).

Harrison is the first player from an HBCU to be named All-American. He is 12th on NCCU’s all-time scoring list and played 18 seasons with the Harlem Globetrotters. “I owe a debt to NCCU that I will never be able to repay. I played for one of the greatest coaches I’ll ever play for in my lifetime.”

• Harold Hunter (1946-50).

On Feb. 26, 1950, Hunter became the first black player to sign an NBA contract with the Washington Generals. Unfortunately, he never got to play in the NBA, but he was the first black to coach a U.S. Olympic team. He sent 17 players to the NBA while a coach at Tennessee State.

“They don’t like to give credit to small black college teams. McLendon could hold down with the best of any of them, and Sam Jones changed the game of basketball.”

• Sam Jones (1953-57).

Jones is the all-time scoring leader in school history with 1,745 points. He is the Eagles’ only first-round draft pick and won 10 championships with the Boston Celtics. Jones was named one of the top 50 greatest NBA players. “This is my school. I love this school.”

• Rudolph “Rocky” Roberson (1941-45).

Roberson, who couldn’t make the trip, was NCCU’s first three-sport athlete: track and field, baseball and football. He led the nation in scoring in ’43, ’44 and ’45. McLendon called him “the greatest pivot man ever at NCCU.”

• Harry James “Trees” Taylor (1946-50). Taylor was a star on the 1950 CIAA championship team and went on to a stellar career with the Harlem Globetrotters. “Nobody ever talked to me about college until coach McLendon. He showed me how to be a man and face the challenges in life. This was the best experience I ever had.”

• LeRoy T. Walker.

Walker, 95, began his NCCU coaching career in 1945. As track coach, he produced 30 national titles, 77 All-Americans and eight Olympic medalists. In 1976, he became the first black head coach of a U.S.

Olympic track and field team and later was the first black to be named president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “My greatest enjoyment was my contributions to the student. Much is yet to be done to make NCCU more significant to the community in contribution.”

• Ernie “Hands” Warlick (1948-51).

Warlick ranks ninth on the school’s all-time scoring list and was an All-American football player. He was a three-time CFL All-League player and a four-time Pro Bowler with the Buffalo Bills. He was also the first black broadcaster in Buffalo and is in the Buffalo AFL Hall of Fame. “I never figured I’d be one of these guys. I just wanted to play.”

• Troy Weaver (1949-53).

Weaver was an all-tournament selection for the ’50 championship team and a standout tennis player. “I was and always will be an Eagle.”