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Century of Change Gala Celebrates 100 Years of African American Athletes at Pitt




May 11, 2011

Century of Change Photo Gallery  - Q&A With Former Athletes

PITTSBURGH - The University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department and the University of Pittsburgh African American Alumni Council of the Pitt Alumni Association presented "Athletics at Pitt: The Forefront of a Century of Change" on Tuesday evening.

The gala, highlighted by the attendance of more than 200 former athletes, celebrated the remarkable achievements and advancements since the first African-American varsity student-athletes competed and graduated from Pitt 100 years ago (Harry Ray Wooten and Hubbard Hollensworth). 

Following a pre-event reception, Dave Garnett - a 1971 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a three-year member of the football team - opened the program. The national anthem was performed by Kara Henderson, daughter of Don Henderson the only African American to serve as Provost at Pitt. 

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg remarked on Pitt’s greatest accomplishments, both athletically and in fields such as research. Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson and Linda Wharton Boyd, President of the African American Alumni Council, delivered riveting messages to the crowd of over 600 people. 
 

Sportscaster Bob Costas graciously served as the event host. Costas, winner of 21 Emmy Awards, is one of the most recognized and accomplished figures in sports broadcasting history. Costas - with NBC Sports since 1979 and MLB Network since 2009 - has covered nearly every major sport, but is most identified with the Olympics and Major League Baseball.

Many former Panther greats were in attendance, including Tony Dorsett (Pitt’s only Heisman Trophy winner), Larry Fitzgerald (first sophomore to win the Walter Camp Award and a unanimous first team All American selection), and track star Trecia-Kaye Smith (15-time NCAA Champion).  

Individuals such as Bobby Grier (first African-American ever to play in the Sugar Bowl) and Hugh Green (three-time All American; winner of the Maxwell Award) shared the red carpet walk from the dais to the main stage with more recent Panthers such as women's basketball standouts Lorri Johnson (all-time leading scorer) and Jennifer Bruce Scott (second leading scorer in history).  

Short films narrated by broadcast pioneer Jack Whitaker and CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield – who was in attendance - and former Panther star Mark May brought to light the path of African-Americans in sport at Pitt. Costas conducted a question and answer with several former athletes, including all-time leading men's basketball scorer and shot blocker Charles Smith and two-time Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom.

All former athletes in attendance were asked to sign a commemorative banner which will be placed on display in the Petersen Events Center.

 The event culminated a dream for dinner chair Herb Douglas. The 89-year old, the oldest living former Panther athlete, had a vision of gathering as many generations together for one evening to celebrate the past 100 years and embrace the future. Douglas was the 1948 Olympic bronze medal winner in the long jump. He is one of only two athletes to ever score a touchdown against Notre Dame and win an Olympic Medal.

Some of the former athletes in attendance included:

Herb Douglas
- Pitt’s oldest living African American athlete (89); First African American Football walk-on and Olympic Bronze Medalist in 1948 (London). To this day-  in the United States, he is one of two athletes to score a touchdown against Notre Dame and win an Olympic Medal.

Reverend Jimmy Joe Robinson - Pitt’s First African American football recruit;  To this date, he still holds Pitt’s punt return record with a 90-yd punt return against Penn State in 1945; founder of a Charter School, Manchester Youth Organization located in Pittsburgh’s Manchester District and is still in existence today after 40 years.

Bobby Grier - first African-American ever to play in the Sugar Bowl (January 2, 1956), considered a milestone in U.S. race relations.

Julius Pegues - first African-American men’s basketball player at Pitt.

Ben Jinks - Pitt’s First African American Basketball recruit.  After graduating from Pitt, he went on to become a banker.

Arnie Sowell - Olympian and Gold Medalist in the 1955 Pan American Games in the 800 Meters and he also held the world 880 yard indoor record.

Hugh Green - three-time All American; winner of the Maxwell Award – and the only Division I defensive lineman to be runner-up for the Heisman Trophy; all time sacks leader at Pitt and ranks second all time in tackles.

Bryant Salter - One of Pitt’s greatest cornerbacks on football field and an All-American in Track and Field; draft selection, went on to successful career in the NFL; former U.S. Diplomat.

Tony Dorsett -four-time All-American and Pitt’s only winner of the Heisman Trophy;  first player in NCAA Division 1A to rush for more than 6,000 yards; also was the first man in history to win a college national championship, Super Bowl, the Heisman and be elected to both the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame.

Hugh Green - three-time All American; winner of the Maxwell Award – and the only Division I defensive lineman to be runner-up for the Heisman Trophy; all time sacks leader at Pitt and ranks second all time in tackles.

Billy Knight - men’s basketball first African American All-American; only player in school history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of his three varsity seasons; 11-year NBA veteran; former Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks (first African American).

Debbie Lewis – holds the all-time assist record in Pitt women’s basketball history; also amassed over 1,900 career points, fourth all-time.

Wanda Randolph - Holder of single season rebound record in Pitt Women’s Basketball History; ranks second all time in rebounds and eighth in points in program history.  

Charles Smith – all-time leading scorer and shot-blocker men’s basketball history; two-time All American and Big East Player of the Year in 1988; 10-year career in the NBA – and was a Bronze medalist on the 1988 US Olympic Basketball Team.

Curtis Aiken - amassed over 1,200 points in his four year career with the Panthers.

Sam Clancy - only player in Pitt hoops history to compile 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career; Gold Medalist in the 1979 Pan American Games; successfully altered his professional career path and went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL.

Jennifer Bruce Scott – second all-time in scoring in Pitt basketball – men’s or women’s - history.  Named Big East Player of the Year in 1984 and two-time All Big East first team selection; as co-chair of this historic event.

Lorri Johnson – all-time leading scorer in Pitt Basketball history – men or women; three-time All-Big East honoree (1989-91) and an All-American.

Roger Kingdom – one of greatest athletes in Pitt history; two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 110 meter hurdles in back-to-back Olympic games; came to Pitt on a football scholarship; coaches at Cal Pa.

Rene Henderson – first female from Pitt to gain prominence as Big East 100 and 200 Meter Champion.  She went on to earn a law degree from Pitt.

Lee McRae – considered greatest sprinter in Pitt History and holder of three consecutive NCAA Indoor Championships at 55 Meters.  He equaled the world record at 55 Meters as well as a 100 Meter Outdoor Champion.

Trecia-Kaye Smith - 15-time All-American track performer; NCAA Division I Most Outstanding Student-Athlete; came to event from London.

Chante Earle – winner of the NCAA 800 Meters Indoors, Four-Time NCAA All-American; last female to win an NCAA Championship for Pitt in the 800 meters, indoors, in 2000.

Ruben Brown - first team All-American and first round selection in 1995 NFL Draft; stellar NFL career with nine Pro Bowl selections.  

Antonio Bryant - one of two Pitt winners of the Belitnikof Award, given annually given to the nation’s top wide receiver in college football.  Holds the career record for receiving yards and average per season in program history.

Larry Fitzgerald - first sophomore to win the Walter Camp Award and a unanimous first team All American selection; Also won the Belitnikoff Award (one of only two Panthers) and holds the Pitt record for touchdown receptions in a season and most consecutive games with a touchdown (18); playing in the NFL as a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals.

Marcedes Walker - Only player in Pitt women’s basketball history to amass 1,800 career points and 1,000 career rebounds; four-time all-Big East selection, helped lead Pitt to its first ever NCAA tournament appearance.

Brandin Knight – helped bring Pitt basketball back to national prominence; two-time All-American and Big East player of year and Most Improved in 2002; all time assists leader; has jersey retired and is currently an assistant coach for the Panthers.

Julius Page - Helped lead Pitt to its first ever Big East Tournament crown in 2003 (along with Knight) and was named tournament Most Valuable Player.  Holds the school record for career minutes played and games started.