Father Ryan High School Salutes
50 Years of Sports Equality
Willie Brown, who broke the color barrier for high school sports in Nashville, Tennessee and the South when he started for the Father Ryan High School basketball team in the fall of 1963, was inducted into the Tennessee Secondary Sports Athletic Association Hall of Fame during a luncheon ceremony on Saturday, April 5.
Brown, who died in 1975 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in Connecticut, was represented by his sister Ann Brown Beatty, other members of his family, his coach at Father Ryan Bill Derrick, and teammates and classmates at Father Ryan, including Nashville Bishop David Choby.
Inductees are voted into the hall in one of three categories: administrator, coach or contributor. Brown was elected as a contributor in recognition of his pioneering efforts that integrated high school sports.
Father Ryan began accepting black students in the fall of 1954, just months after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case that struck down school segregation. But it took another 10 years before the school allowed black students to participate in extra-curricular activities like athletics.
Brown, a junior, and Jesse Porter, a senior, joined the Father Ryan basketball team in the fall of 1963, integrating the team. When Brown stepped on the court as one of Father Ryan’s starters in a December 3 game against Peabody School to open the season, he became the first black to play “for a predominantly white high school team in the Nashville Interscholastic League, the state of Tennessee, and presumably the South,” according to the TSSAA Hall of Fame announcement.
Not only was Brown the first to cross the color barrier, he is arguably the best basketball player ever at Father Ryan and among the best to ever come out of Nashville. In his two-year career at Father Ryan, the Irish posted a 52-6 record.
The impact of Brown and Porter joining the team in 1963 was felt beyond the school. The next year, Brown led Father Ryan into a game against Nashville’s Pearl High School, a national powerhouse in basketball among segregated black schools. Brown was the leading scorer in the game, which was played before a sold-out crowd at Municipal Auditorium – at the time the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game in Tennessee and was won by Ryan on a dramatic last-second shot.
That game helped pave the way for the integration of Tennessee’s state tournament the next year, which was won by Pearl.
After leaving Father Ryan, Brown continued to break through barriers. He moved on to Middle Tennessee State University where he became one of the first black players there and integrated the Ohio Valley Conference. After college, Brown played on a semi-professional team in Connecticut and later became a police officer.
During this school year, Father Ryan has been marking the 50th anniversary of the integration of high school sports in Nashville and the state, by honoring Brown, Derrick, the school’s principal at the time the late Msgr. James Hitchcock, and Brown’s teammates. Before the basketball team’s home opener in November, a banner with Brown’s number, 50, was raised to the rafters of the school’s Catignani-Drennan Fieldhouse. The school also retired Brown’s number across all sports. “Everyone recognizes what Jackie Robinson did for sports and for baseball. Willie Brown is the Jackie Robinson of high school athletics,” Pat Lawson, Father Ryan’s athletic director, told the Tennessee Register last November. “So many times you see athletics make changes in culture and here’s one that certainly did that,” Lawson said.
The others inducted into the Hall of Fame with Brown included: Gary Householder, administrator from Seymour; Chic Nute, administrator from Munford; the late Glenn McCadams, coach from Nashville; Randy King, coach from Murfreesboro; Ken Colquette, coach from Jasper; Melvin Black, official from Nashville; and Marvin Doggett, official from Cordova.
An exhibit with information about each of the inductees will be on display this spring at the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Tennessee Register Article, April 11, 2014
Willie Brown Honored at State Tournaments
Father Ryan’s Willie Brown, who integrated sports in Tennessee and the South when he took the court for the Irish in December of 1963, was honored at the TSSAA State Basketball Championship for his contributions to the sport and to the state.
The state organization honored Brown, who died while a policeman in 1975 in Stamford, Conneticut, while returning home from duty, during this 50th Anniversary of integration of sports. Brown’s sister, Ann Brown Beatty, his coach, Bill Derrick, and others were a part of the celebrations that took place at the DII Championship at Lipscomb on March 1; the DI Girls Championship on March 8; and the DI Boys Championship on March 15, the latter two at MTSU.
The game in 1963 lauched Brown, a 1965 graduate of Father Ryan, into a two-year career as a starter as he became one of the most talented and honored players in the state’s history. During those two years the Irish posted a 52-6 record, won the District 18 title two straight years, the Region V title in 1965 and advanced to the state tournament. In addition, on January 5, 1965, Willie’s senior team played and won an historic game against Pearl High’s outstanding team, led by Perry Wallace and Ted ‘Hound’ McClain, in front of 8,300 at Municipal Auditorium, the first game in the South between an African-American school and an integrated school.
Watch the documentary video that played during the game broadcasts:
View the game broadcast of the 2014 TSSAA Division II Class AA Boys Basketball Championship - Ensworth vs Memphis University School and tune in at 53:46 for the salute to Willie Brown.
View the game broadcast of the 2014 TSSAA Div I Class AAA Boys Basketball Championship - Blackman vs Oak Ridge.
Thank you to Star Physical Therapy for being an official sponsor of 50 Years of Equality in Sports.
#50 Retired at Father Ryan Across All Sports
On Tuesday, November 19th, Father Ryan High School continued its celebration of 50 years of sports equality in the South at the basketball home opener with the retirement of number 50 across all Father Ryan sports in honor of the late Willie Brown, a 1965 Father Ryan graduate. Brown and teammate Jesse Porter '64 were the first African-Americans to integrate high school sports in the South when they played for the Irish in the 1963-64.
Brown was one of the most accomplished players in Tennessee’s history, and in his two-year career as a starter, the Irish posted a 52-6 record, winning the District two straight years. In 1965 Brown and his teammates won the Region V title and advanced to the state tournament. In the process he also became the first African American to:
• Play in the District, Region and State Tournaments in Tennessee
• Play in an organized game at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym (1963)
• Sign an OVC Scholarship and play in that conference at MTSC (now MTSU) 1966-1969
In honor of the legacy of this outstanding player Father Ryan raised a banner with the #50 to the rafters of the gym. Willie Brown's sister, Ann Brown Beatty, and many of her family members were in attendance, along with a number of the members of that 1963-64 team, the teams that followed, and Coach Bill Derrick. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam proclaimed this date as "Willie Brown/Retirement #50 Day"
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The Tennessean, December 3