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  • Sincerely, Southern

An oral history of Black athletes at Georgia Southern

By: DJ Cadden, Copy Editor

First Black Athletes

In 1906, the First District A&M School was planted in Statesboro, then it became Georgia Normal School in 1924. Five years later, it became South Georgia Teachers College. After a few minor name changes, the school settled on Georgia Southern University in 1990.

However, one thing was missing throughout the university’s illustrious history: Black athletes.

To be exact, 56 years went by before Georgia Southern accepted a Black student. And another two years passed before the university allowed a Black athlete to be put on scholarship.

Frank Radovich, the head men’s basketball coach, who only spent three years in Statesboro, was the first coach to recruit Black athletes. In response to Radovich, University President, Zach S. Henderson, restricted the coach to only recruiting Black athletes that lived within 50 miles of the university.

Radovich, originally from Indiana, recruited three Black athletes within the first year of receiving this new freedom: Eugene Brown, Roger Moore and Marvin Stevens.

“The stands would be full at 6:00 p.m. when the freshman team would start playing,” former Georgia Southern starter Phillip Sisk said of his teammates. “It would be a packed house, because people wanted to see Roger play.”

Brown was the only one of the three to graduate from the university, while Moore was drafted in the 12th round of the 1971 NBA Draft and played a few professional seasons in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, Stevens was forced to transfer from the university after just one season due to academic troubles.

The GOATs?

Once Brown, Moore and Stevens opened the doors for Black athletes to attend Georgia Southern, many stars followed suit.

Among the most notable are former Eagle running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Tracy Ham – the only two Eagle football players to have their number retired by the program.

Ham commanded the Eagle offense to a national championship during the 1986 season. His 1,772 passing yards that season remains a top-five season in Georgia Southern football history in terms of total passing yards. He also remains the Georgia Southern record-holder in terms of career passing yards and passing touchdowns with 5,757 yards and 34 scores through the air.

Despite being a quarterback, due to the help of the Eagles’ noted triple-option offense, Ham ranks No. 10 in Georgia Southern history with 3,212 rushing yards to his name.

Ham also went on to have an illustrious career in the Canadian Football League, becoming a two-time Grey Cup Champion, a CFL all-star and a CFL Most Outstanding Player Award. He was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2010.

Not long after Ham took over the Georgia Southern record books, the Eagles’ were blessed with another superstar on the gridiron in running back Adrian Peterson.

Peterson quickly became one of the nation’s most productive backs, rushing for 6,559 yards in his four seasons in Statesboro. The number still holds as more than 1,000 more than the next most in a Georgia Southern player’s career. His career total remains the most in Division I history to this day.

His out-of-this-world productivity propelled the Eagles’ offense to back-to-back national championships in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. He was also named the 1999 Walter Payton Award Winner, which is given annually to the best player at the Division I-AA level.

The Chicago Bears selected Peterson in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL Draft, with the 199th overall selection.

While his NFL career was nowhere near the caliber of his college career, Peterson accumulated just short of 2,000 career yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns. He logged multiple 100-yard games in his handful of starts across eight years for the Bears.

Both players have their numbers in the bleachers at Allen E. Paulson Stadium and are both members of the College Football Hall of Fame. Both men are now administrative members within the Georgia Southern athletic department, with Ham serving as the Senior Associate Athletics Director and Peterson serving as the Director of Player Development.

The Trailblazers

More than 40 years after the first Black athletes attended Georgia Southern, former Eagle basketball player, Charlton Young, became the program’s first Black head coach.

In four years at the helm of the Eagle basketball program, Young accumulated a career record of 43-84 overall and a 26-46 conference record. However, the highlight of his time as a coach in Statesboro came during the 2011-2012 season, when the Eagles finished the season with a 15-15 overall record and finished second in the Southern Conference.

Since his time in Statesboro came to an end, Young has served as an assistant coach at both Florida State and Missouri, where he is currently employed.

Before the 2019-2020 season, Georgia Southern hired Anita Howard to lead the university’s women’s basketball program. Howard became the first Black female head coach in Georgia Southern’s athletic history.

“It’s truly an honor and a blessing for me to be a woman in my position, and a woman of color at that,” said Howard. “In a male-dominated profession, I don’t take this position for granted. I want to be a pioneer.”

In her first four seasons as the head coach of the Lady Eagles, Howard has racked up a record of 60-53. In the 2022-23 season, the Lady Eagles recorded their first 20-win season in 20 years and also made an appearance in the Women’s National Invitational (NIT) Tournament.

The impact of Georgia Southern’s strive for diversity is evident even today, with the student body being made up of more than 25% Black students.

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