Gone, But Not Forgotten

By Tony McClean
Updated: December 31, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — In a sports year where we said hello to such athletes like Formula 1 car racer Lewis Hamilton, college quarterback Andre Woodson, goalie Ray Emery, and PBA bowler Billy Oatman, we also said goodbye to some folks as well.

What follows is a brief list of the pioneers and notable black sports figures who left us during the past 12 months. We do this to remember their accomplishments and celebrate their lives.

Jan. 1 – Darrent Williams, 24, NFL player for the Denver Broncos. He also owned and served as CEO of the RYNO Entertainment record label in Fort Worth, Texas. Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Feb. 6 – Willye White, 68, U.S. track and field competitor in five Olympics. She won a silver medal in the long jump while still a sophomore in high school in 1956. Sports Illustrated for Women later named White one of the 100 greatest women athletes of the 20th century.

Feb. 22 – Dennis Johnson, 52, Best known for his career with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, where he won three NBA championships and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in 1979. He later coached the Los Angeles Clippers and served in other non-playing capacities. Johnson died of a heart attack.

Feb. 24 – Lamar Lundy, 71, played defensive end for the former Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. He was part of the “Fearsome Foursome” of defensive players on the team, considered to be one of the best squads in football history.

Feb. 24 – Damian Nash, 25, played running back for the NFL’s Denver Broncos. He died of a heart-related ailment after collapsing during a charity event.

March 10 – Ernie Ladd, 68, nicknamed “The Big Cat,” was a college and professional football player and a professional wrestler. Ladd played for legendary coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State University.

April 3 – Eddie Robinson, 88, spent 56 years as head football coach at Grambling State University. During his tenure, Robinson established himself as the winningest coach in college football history, becoming the first coach to record 400 wins. Robinson is second on the list of wins by a college coach in any division.

April 5 – Darryl Stingley, 55, NFL player for the New England Patriots. He served on the team from 1973 to 1977. His career was tragically cut short when he was paralyzed by a hit from defensive back Jack Tatum during a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 12, 1978. He spent the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.

April 30 – Kevin Mitchell, 36, NFL player for the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, and Washington Redskins. He was most valuable player of the 1993 Fiesta Bowl, while a college player.

May 3 – Tiny L. Laster Jr., 61, Hampton University women’s coach who led the softball team to a regular-season championship on May 1. Laster, who took over as the Lady Pirates softball coach in 1989, compiled a career record of 535-300-1. He also had a 215-250 record in 13 years as volleyball coach, and a 139-67 record as Hampton’s women’s basketball coach.

May 7 – Diego “Chico” Corrales, 29, boxer who died in a high-speed motorcycle crash in Las Vegas. Corrales, who fought most of his career at 130 pounds, was a big puncher best known for getting up after two 10th-round knockdowns to stop Jose Luis Castillo on May 7, 2005. Boxing Writers Association of America and numerous boxing publications called it the fight of the year.

May 26 – Howard Porter, 58, one of the best players in Villanova basketball history, who led the Wildcats to the 1971 NCAA championship game. The Wildcats lost to UCLA 68-62, but Porter was voted the tournament’s outstanding player.

May 28 – Marquise Hill, 24, a defensive end for the New England Patriots died in a a jet ski accident on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana.

July 2 – Jimmy Walker, 63, former Providence All-American and a first-round NBA draft pick by the Detroit Pistons in 1967. Walker led the nation in scoring in 1967 as a senior, averaging more than 30 points a game. Walker, who played nine seasons in the NBA with Detroit, Houston and Kansas City, averaged 16.7 points per game for his career, including a high of 21.3 in 1971-72.

July 29 – Bill Robinson, 64, a major league baseball player from 1966 to 1983. Robinson, who played on Pittsburgh’s 1979 World Series championship team, was an outfielder for Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Aug. 7 – Willie Booker, 65, former Florida A&M basketball coach. Booker led the Rattlers to their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title in 1991 and had a 137-125 record from 1984-1993.

Sept. 1 – Russell Ellington, 69, a college basketball coach who also coached the Harlem Globetrotters. Ellington accumulated a 894-212 record while coaching basketball for more than 40 years, including stints with Savannah State College, Savannah Tech and Morris Brown. Ellington was best known nationally for his stint touring with the Globetrotters from 1984-93.

Sept. 16 – Louis J. Willie Jr., 84, a black businessman who helped defuse a racial dispute surrounding the 1990 PGA Championship by becoming an honorary member at the all-white Shoal Creek club in suburban Birmingham, Ala.

Oct. 20 – Jim Mitchell, 60, a Pro Bowl tight end for the Atlanta Falcons. Mitchell played for the Falcons from 1969-79 and was named to the Pro Bowl following the 1969 and 1972 seasons.

Oct. 30 – John Woodruff, 92, a gold medal winner at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Woodruff joined Jesse Owens as black Americans who won gold medals in the face of Adolf Hitler and his “master race” agenda. He won the 800 meters using one of the most astonishing tactics in Olympic history. Boxed in by the pack of slow-paced runners, he literally stopped in his tracks, then moved to the third lane and passed everyone.

Nov. 14 – Hansel Tookes, 86, former Florida A&M athletic director. Tookes coached the offensive and defensive lines for legendary coach Jake Gaither before becoming the school’s athletic director in 1973.

Nov. 26 – Herb McKenley, 85, a Jamaican track legend who was one of the first two people from a Caribbean country to win an Olympic medal. McKenley was also the first man to cover the 400 meters in under 46 seconds. In 1948, he and fellow Jamaican Arthur Wint – who took home the gold – won the first Olympic medals for the Caribbean. He won a silver medal in the 100 meters and was a member of the Jamaican team that won the 4X400-meter relay at the 1952 games in Helsinki, Finland.
Nov. 27 – Sean Taylor, 24, Washington Redskins safety, died from injuries sustained when he was shot in the leg a day earlier in his home by an intruder.

Nov. 27 – Bill Willis, 86, a Hall of Fame guard with the Cleveland Browns who also was Ohio State’s first black football All-American. Willis was an All-American in 1943 and 1944. He had a distinguished career with the Browns (1946-53), helping to break the color barrier in professional football.