Michigan State history to celebrate and copy
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Michigan State history to celebrate and copy

Underground Railroad teams set example of how integration is supposed to work

Photo: Hall of Famers (L-R): Jimmy Raye, Bill Wehrwein, Dale Anderson, Rachel Miller and Savadetha (Fynes) Coke. In the background are athletes that earned their first letter and a varsity jacket honored the same night. Athlete director Bill Beekman is standing with the athletes. Photo: Michigan State

Hall of Fame class inductions at any level are special moments. They reconnect athletes as well as fans with their youth, but Michigan State’s Class of 2018 also represents an extension to the school’s pioneering history.

America has a complicated past with race relations, but Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty’s Underground Railroad teams from the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement are an example of how integration is supposed to work. It’s a success story to celebrate and copy.

The Class of 2018 class is connected to the Underground Railroad teams through Jimmy Raye. He boarded in 1964 out of Fayetteville, N.C., a year after three future College Football Hall of Famers, George Webster of Anderson, S.C., Bubba Smith from Beaumont, Tx, and Gene Washington of La Porte, Tx., punched tickets. Clinton Jones, a fourth College Football Hall of Famer, arrived from Cleveland, Ohio.

Raye's place in history was as the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title in 1966. The Spartans and Notre Dame were named co-national champions by the National Football Foundation. The teams met in quasi-national championship called the Game of the Century that ended in a controversial 10-10 tie and with 9-0-1 records.

The 1966 Associated Press and United Press International title voting went to Notre Dame despite the identical records and the tie on the field, but the Underground Railroad teams accomplished a longer legacy. They changed the face of football with the 1966 co-title and 1965 UPI national title.

Daugherty’s influence, following the path of diversity set by President John Hannah, cracked open doors to opportunity in the South and pushed open wider doors in the rest of the nation.]

Prior to Daugherty lining up 20 black players against Notre Dame’s one black athlete in 1966, schools with an integrated history had a limited number of black players. Minnesota’s 1960 national title team had five and USC’s 1967 national champs only seven. But by 1972, USC’s next national title roster had 23.

“I’m very thankful for the courage, the conviction and the foresight of John Hannah and Duffy Daugherty,” Raye said. “I owe them a debt of gratitude for their vision of a better future for America. They gave men who couldn't go to school in their state a chance to go to Michigan State. Without them, this honor wouldn’t have been possible.”

Raye headlines the five-member class that will be honored at halftime of today’s football game against Central Michigan at Spartan Stadium, but he isn’t alone in appreciating his alma mater’s pioneering history.

Here are stories of the other four to be honored:

--- Bill Wehrwein, track and field, Roseville, MI.

Wehrwein arrived at Michigan State in the fall of 1966. As a high school track athlete, he knew all about the football and track exploits of Gene Washington and Clint Jones, College Football Hall of Famers and track All-Americans; he was in awe of joining them on a such a track roster.

He finished his career as a four-time All-American, won five Big Ten titles and set a national indoor record in the 600-yard run on the then-dirt track of Jenison Fieldhouse.

Wehrwein starts with its establishment Land Grant College through the Morrill Act in 1855 when he speaks of Michigan State's history. And then it continues through his appreciation of the ground broken by its athletic teams. He had a closer view than most through his life long friendship with Washington and Jones.

 “Michigan State has done a lot of ground-breaking,” Wehrwein said. “First of all, it was a land grant college. Justin Morrill let the common person go to school. That’s to start with. Then we had Duffy Daugherty and what he was able to do with the support of Hannah and (athletic director) Biggie Munn.

“To be a part of this university, and that time period, was a great experience. I never dreamed I could go to college, but I was able to because I was able to run fast and turn left.”

--- Savatheda (Fynes) Coke, track and field, The Bahamas

Coke only spent one year at Michigan State in 1996-97 after transferring from Eastern Michigan, but she left her mark wearing green and white and beyond in an international career representing The Bahamas.

She is the only Michigan State track athlete to win three NCAA titles, combining indoor and outdoor seasons. She won the 55-meter indoor title and the 100- and 200-meter outdoor championships.

In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, she won a silver medal in the 400-meter relay team. In the 1997 World Championships, she was a bronze medalist in the 100 meters.

“I remember Bubba Smith came to campus,” she said, referring to the 1996 Notre Dame-Michigan State game when Smith’s No. 90 jersey was retired and place on display in Spartan Stadium. “Michigan State was a great school for me," she said. "I never felt out of place. The teachers, the athletic community and the coaches felt like a family for me. I have a great appreciation for my time here. I learned a lot.”

--- Rachel Miller, rowing, Meeteetse, WY.

Rowing was a recently established sport on campus when was Michigan State’s first All-American her sophomore season in 2001. She added second-team All-American honors as a junior and first-team again as a senior.

Miller grew up in a Wyoming town of 350 people when she moved into the Brody Complex, dormitory housing that numbers far more than her town’s population. She had a lot to learn about Michigan State’s history, but she respects what she has come to understand about Duffy Daugherty’s Underground Railroad teams.

“We should be embracing it,” she said. “I didn’t know much about Michigan State, but the people make this a special place. I came from a small town to a big university and the rowing team became my family.”

--- Dale Anderson, wrestling, Waterloo, IA.

Anderson was a two-time NCAA individual champion and member of the 1967 NCAA team title that was one of many individual teams titles the the school captured in a golden era. Michigan State won team national titles in football (1965 and 1966), hockey (1966), wrestling (1967), men’s soccer (1967 and 1968).

“My time here was a very exciting time,” he said. “I came here as a walk-on athlete and all these national championships were falling into place. I loved all the sports programs. I used go to the gymnastics meets, the swim meets … a lot of them.”

A half-century later, Anderson says he has greater appreciation for his time at the school based on words from Michigan State icon Magic Johnson. Johnson, who led the basketball team to the 1979 NCAA title, once told players on Michigan State's 2000 NCAA champions they will appreciate the title more with time.

“Magic said you probably won’t appreciate this as much you will in 50 years,” Anderson said. “I always appreciated the title, but 50 years later I really appreciate it more.”

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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu

-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and Chargers.com. He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer, MLB.com, Rivals.com and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."