A few weeks ago, I was honored to attend the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Mobile County School’s (MCTS) last undefeated state champion football and baseball teams. The Whippets’ football team went 10 – 0, defeating Carver High of Montgomery 12 – 0 in the 1966 championship game. The baseball team, under legendary coach, Curtis Horton, went undefeated for the second consecutive year, joining the football team as state champs.
Even though Brown vs. the Board of Education had made school segregation illegal in 1954, these teams of the 1960s were still not allowed to compete against white schools. Their championships came under the auspices of the Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association, the black counterpart of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
“These athletes had to cobble together used equipment, such as cleats and broken baseball bats held together with tape and nails. They played in second-rate facilities and sometimes even on makeshift fields on cow pastures” (USSA, 2013). Unable to compete against their White contemporaries, the Whippets had to be satisfied with being the best Black team in the state. They also had to deal with the fact that they would not be recruited by major colleges and took their talents to small schools around the country.
Mobile has a rich history when it comes to baseball. The home of Hank Aaron and several other Hall of Famers, Mobile’s tradition would not be nearly as impressive without the athletes who competed for the MCTS Whippets. How many high schools in America can claim that the starting leftfielder and centerfielder for a world champion played together at their school? MCTS can! After baseball was restarted by coach Horton in the 1959 – 1960 school year, the first two teams featured Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee. Jones and Agee were two of the heroes of the 1969 “Miracle” Mets who defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in five games to win the Mets’ first World Series title.
The “Whippets Pride Luncheon” was a celebration of these great teams from the 1960s. Coach Horton and his pitching coach, Marcine Chatman were there along with several members of those championship teams. As a sports junkie, it was awesome for me to just sit there and listen to them tell stories about their friends and teammates. It was also fascinating to listen to a speech by one of their favorite teachers, Mrs. Valena McCants (Class of 1941).
There are two things I will always remember about meeting these men and women. First, in addition to being great athletes, they were all wonderful people; who became, teachers, doctors, clergymen, and wonderful role models to the young men and women of Mobile. Second, I never heard one complaint or one ounce of bitterness about the fact that they were not allowed to play with or against White athletes. They were all proud to be Whippets and I was extremely proud to be among them for two hours.
For more stories about these great black athletes, click here.
Dr. Stephen L. Butler is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the United States Sports Academy. He also hosts the Academy’s weekly Sports Talk program and is the resident baseball junkie.