>>Jack Trice: A powerful story retold
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JACK TRICE: A POWERFUL STORY RETOLD
Artist Ed Dwight is totally pumped to tell
Jack Trice’s story to the cheering throngs
that stream into the stadium named for Iowa
State’s doomed football hero.
Dwight’s vision of the story inspired his multi-panel
sculpture that now greets Cyclone fans at the stadium’s
newly renovated east entrance. Flanked by the original
gates to Clyde Williams Field, Dwight’s work is
highlighted by references to key moments
in the Trice saga, from his beginnings in
Hiram, Ohio, to the protracted scrimmage
over naming the stadium in his
In the middle of the piece is a
striking bas relief of Trice in his
Iowa State football uniform.“I’m a storyteller. For the people
who know the story, this will be
an affirmation. For the people who
don’t, it will be an introduction,”
says Dwight. “People will get a
full dose of who Trice was, and
they can walk away and go to the
Internet and find out more about
the guy on the basis of what they
see here – kids, especially, and the
black players. Those are the guys
who need to see this.”
Dwight’s own story has echoes of Trice. He was the first
black football player at a Catholic high school in Kansas City
and the first black astronaut trainee. He had a hugely successful
career in Colorado in land development
and construction but left it
behind to use his skills as an artist (as
well as his own fortune) to commemorate
African American achievement.
“Every time white folks did something
there was a timely memorial,”
says Dwight. “Black folks have been
contributing since we came here, but
we were too busy just living from day
to day to memorialize anyone.”
Dwight has devoted his life to correcting
that, creating commissioned
sculptures all over the country that
honor such black luminaries as Alex
Haley, Martin Luther King, the men
and women of the Underground
Railroad, Frederick Douglass, Miles
Davis, and Hank Aaron. Dwight passionately
believes that Trice belongs
to this pantheon.
“That’s what’s so phenomenal,” says
the artist. “He’s a discovery. He’s not
on the main line – that line that goes
through black history. I can’t wait to
talk to people about him. I bring him
up in all my speeches, and people just
go crazy for the story.”
People, no matter their race, have
been crazy about the Trice story for
a long, long time. It’s a compelling story, and, once you’ve heard it,
unforgettable. It’s a story that gives
rise to more stories. It’s gone quiet
for stretches at a time, but the story
is always rediscovered, its power to
An inspiring tragedy
Trice came to Iowa State College in
the fall of 1922 at the urging of Coach
Sam Willaman, who had been his
high school coach back in Cleveland,
Ohio. Trice was Iowa State’s first black
athlete and the first in the Missouri
Valley Conference, to which Iowa
State belonged at the time. He majored
in animal husbandry with the goal
of eventually moving to the South and improving the lives of
On Oct. 6, 1923, Trice’s sophomore year, Iowa State played
an away game against the University of Minnesota. Trice, who
played right tackle, broke his collarbone in the first half but kept
playing. In the third quarter, he executed a “rolling block,” in
which he threw himself in front of a line of Minnesota players.
He ended up on his back and was trampled by the opposition.
As he was taken from the field, sympathetic
Minnesota fans reportedly
chanted, “We’re sorry, Ames, we’re
The extent of his injuries
unknown, Trice was first taken to a
Minneapolis hospital and then home
to Ames where he was admitted to
the student hospital. His condition
worsened, and on the afternoon of
Oct. 8, 1923, Trice died of what was
ruled “traumatic peritonitis, following
injury to abdomen in football game.”
The troubling death may have
earned little more than a sad footnote
in Iowa State’s athletic and minority
student history if not for one thing:
the letter found in Trice’s pocket. He
wrote it to himself the night before the
Minnesota game on stationery from
the hotel where the team had stayed.
“To whom it may concern:
My thoughts just before the first real
college game of my life. The honor of
my race, family, and self is at stake.
Everyone is expecting me to do big
things. I will! My whole body and soul
are to be thrown recklessly about on
the field tomorrow. Every time the ball
is snapped I will be trying to do more
than my part. On all defensive plays
I must break through the opponent’s
line and stop the play in their territory.
Beware of massive interference, fight
low with your eyes open and toward
the play. Roll block the interference.
Watch out for crossbucks and reverse
end runs. Be on your toes every minute
if you expect to make good.”
A good man lost
Trice’s words and athleticism weren’t
the only demonstrations of his bravery
In conjunction with Dwight’s
work, Iowa State professor emeritus
of history Dorothy Schwieder researched and wrote a detailed,
eye-opening essay about Trice. The essay, to be published in
The Annals of Iowa, offers the most complete to-date record of
the entire Trice story, drawing on interviews with many of the
tale’s players and extensive historical and archival material.
“I generally knew the Trice story,” says Schwieder (MS ’68
history). “But I came to have great respect for Jack Trice, not
only as a football player but mostly as an individual.
“As a historian, my view is of a young man from Ohio
coming into this overwhelmingly white environment. He
obviously has never been to college before and he’s the only
black person on this all-white team. It had to be an almost
In 1922, Ames had 6,240 residents, but only 34 were African
American. Iowa State had approximately 20 black students out
of a total enrollment of nearly 5,000. At the time, Iowa had many
formal and informal racist policies, says Schwieder. In some
communities “sunset laws” required blacks to be out of town
by sundown. There were even signs announcing this fact. The
Ku Klux Klan also was active in central Iowa.
“Almost any town of any size had a Klan group. I didn’t come
across that in Ames, but reading the Ames Tribune before and
after the death, I counted 10 to 12 references to Klan activity
around Ames,” says Schwieder.
“This was the tone. This was the
reality at the time Jack Trice came
here. And the fact that he was willing
to come and really apply himself
as a student – and from everything
I’ve read he had a great deal of talent
on the football field – I have a real
admiration for him.”
Was race a factor?
While football brought him to
Ames, it also provided the most
vivid examples of the racism Trice faced. There are conflicting
reports that some schools refused to play Iowa State College
because it had a black man on the team. Other reports indicate
that Trice often couldn’t stay in the same hotels as the rest of the
team or eat dinner with them. There also is an account of Trice
and his new bride, Cora Mae, having
trouble finding housing in Ames and
eventually seeking help from a local
Masonic group, which allowed them
to board in a room in their temple.
While well-liked by his white
peers, particularly his teammates and
coaches, Trice seemed to understand
and at least tolerate the expectation
that, as a black man, he would be
“One teammate recalled many
years later that Trice had been
cautious about his interactions
with others, holding back in social
situations until others initiated conversation,”
Schwieder writes. “One
former teammate put it this way:‘Jack appreciated his status. Generally,
he spoke only when spoken to. As
far as I know he was always a gentleman, like almost all of the
athletes and students were.’”
Following the game in which Trice received his injuries,
there were some reports that he had been intentionally
trampled, even stomped and bitten, by Minnesota players.
This spurred speculation that race was a factor in the death,
though there has never been clear consensus on the issue.
Indeed, Trice’s athletic abilities, which by all reports were
significant, could have been enough motivation for Minnesota
to knock him out of the game.
In her essay, Schwieder includes comments from some of
Trice’s teammates who were on the field that fateful day. In a
1973 interview, teammate Harry Schmidt tells of being asked
by a friend on the University of Minnesota’s student newspaper
if he felt that Trice had been intentionally hurt: “And I said,
‘Absolutely not.’ I said I was there. I was moving over toward
the play and saw him throw that block in there and saw him
get stepped on.”
In a 1979 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, teammate
Johnny Behm said that Trice had “possibly been wrestled to the
ground instead of blocked...” Schwieder notes that “Behm said
he didn’t think there was anything intentional on the part of the
Minnesota players ‘because there hadn’t been any remarks or incidents leading up to it.’ Behm added that ‘Anyhow,
the fullback, going through the hole, stepped on Jack’s
stomach and maybe his groin... He was badly hurt
and tried to get up and wanted to stay in. We saw he
couldn’t stand and helped him off the field.’”
But Schwieder also includes a comment from Merl
Ross, Trice’s employer, that appeared in the Des Moines Tribune the day of Trice’s death. Ross “believed that the Minnesota players ‘wanted to knock Trice out of the game because he was black.’ He added, ‘I’m sure that was their purpose...They wanted to get him out of there. And that’s what they did.’”
On Oct. 9, 1923, an Iowa State College official
responded to an inquiry asking if the school thought
Trice’s injuries were the result of unfair play. The
response: “Willaman and the men under him advised
me that they did not discern any special massing on
Jack Trice. He was an exceptional player and of course
made trouble for the Minnesota team.”
Ed Dwight (American, b. 1933)
I Will! 2009
Environmental public art installation includes: bas relief panels, portrait figure, and original Clyde Williams Field Gates.
An Iowa Art in State Buildings Project commissioned for the ISU Athletic Department by the University Museums. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
A ‘great story’ discovered
Schwieder’s essay will be added to the thick files of Trice material
in the Iowa State University Library archives, where it will
join another important piece of writing in the Trice story: the
one by retired Iowa State journalism professor Tom Emmerson.
In 1957, Emmerson was a journalism student hanging out in
State Gym waiting for some intramural scores and looking for
“I was essentially loitering around State Gym, just walking
around there, killing time when I saw this plaque. I read it and
thought, ‘Wow, I never heard of this before and I grew up in
Ames,’” recalls Emmerson (’60 journalism, MS ’64).
That plaque, which went up in 1923, was embossed with the
words that Trice wrote. It hung in State Gym for many years,
apparently taken for granted by many, until Emmerson stopped
to read it.
Emmerson researched Trice and wrote an article for the
November 1957 issue of the Iowa State Scientist with the
dramatic headline: “Jack Trice, Victor on the Fatal Field.”
“It’s a great story,” says
Emmerson, a devoted Trice
historian with his own
extensive files. “A tragedy.
A life snuffed out. Somebody
trying to do the right thing
for his people, his race. Died
trying hard. Because he was
black, it’s all the more heroic
to me. I would have felt the
same way if it had been a
white person, but not to
the same degree.”
By 1957, the Trice story was more than a quarter of a century
old – a lot of students, faculty, and staff had passed through
campus in that time. Institutional memory fades. But Emmerson
essentially picked up what could be considered a “dead ball” in
Iowa State history. But it took 16 years for anyone to once again
pick up the ball and run with it.
A Trice revival
Chuck Sohn was on the English faculty in the 1970s when he
first heard the Jack Trice story.
“My reaction to the pure human beauty of the Trice material
was close to yelping enthusiasm,” says Sohn, who retired in
1988 and now lives in Phoenix, Ariz.
Sohn is white but was heavily involved with the black community
at Iowa State, advising the Black Cultural Center and
working with Minority Student Affairs. In 1973, he taught a
freshman English course comprising equal numbers of white
and black students. He assigned them to research Trice, which
led many of them to the Emmerson article.
Among Sohn’s students was Pam Dee Geringer, who today
works in information technology at Iowa State.
“Once the class learned that Jack Trice had died from an
injury received in an ISU football game, we decided to learn
more and write about his life,” says Geringer (’78 family svcs;’90 mgmt). “My own task was to contact the press in his hometown
and learn of his life there and more about his wife. He was
well thought of by everyone I contacted. The more we learned,
the more we wanted to publicize his story.”
Sohn’s class project contributed mightily to Trice lore. It also
launched a discussion that would take more than two decades
to resolve: Why not name the football stadium after Trice?
Iowa State’s new football stadium was to be completed in
1975. Sohn spearheaded the Jack Trice Memorial Foundation,
which campaigned hard to have the stadium named for Trice.
Through 1974 and 1975 the naming issue was debated on
campus and in the local media. Student polls indicated strong
support for naming it Jack Trice Memorial Stadium. In the end,
university officials stayed with Cyclone Stadium, citing that the
stadium hadn’t been paid off and, until it was, it was owned by
the ISU Foundation and not the university.
Despite the decision, the movement to name the stadium for
Trice lived on. Over the years the Trice story would be told and
retold by Iowa State Daily reporters and other local media. In
1980, the Jack Trice Memorial Foundation kicked into gear
again. The Government of the Student Body funded various
promotion efforts, including an
airplane that flew over the stadium
during a game trailing a sign that read
“Welcome to Jack Trice Stadium.”
A compromise, a conclusion
In 1983, President Robert Parks
approved a compromise that resulted
in the stadium being named Cyclone
Stadium and the field being named
Jack Trice Field. But that did not close
the book on the Jack Trice story.
There were several chapters left.
The GSB, in response to
Parks’ decision, commissioned
a statue of Trice that
was installed on campus in 1988.
Finally, in 1997, urged on by more student polls
supporting the name change, a GSB resolution, and
his own research, President Martin Jischke recommended
to the Board of Regents that the
stadium be named for Trice. The regents
approved it, though not unanimously.
Iowa State is currently the only
Division 1-A school with a stadium
named for an African American.
“In my final judgment, Jack Trice
was the only person who caused
that stadium to be named ‘Jack
Trice’,” says Sohn. “All the others
and I were just groupies wanting to
hang out with him.”
Maybe, but you can’t overstate the
role of Iowa State students, particularly
those on the GSB and the Daily.
“It’s really one of the most touching stories
in collegiate sports,” says Chris Miller, who
was Daily editor in 1997. “I still get goose
bumps talking about it because it’s both
tragic and impactive. Iowa State took a
very big risk in having an African American
varsity player. Not everyone and not every
school thought it was a good idea at the time.
It was really brave, and having that piece of
history is unique.”
The Trice story means a lot to Miller (’97
journalism & mass comm), who is now a
lawyer for Verizon in Washington, D.C. In
1996 the story inspired an editorial Miller
did for the Daily. Entitled “Time to honor a
hero,” its conclusion read:
“The time is now to harness the Government
of the Student Body-led drive and honor a great
Yes, Jack Trice was a black man. Yes, that may not sit well with some deep-pocketed alumni. But Iowa State football
isn’t about catering to money.
It’s about grit and desire and courage and everything Jack Trice
was. To not realize that is prejudice in itself, and worse yet, it’s cowardice.
That won’t do.
In 1996, let’s again be brave.
Miller’s editorial won first place in the 1997 Hearst
“I’m still proud of the Hearst medallion from the Trice
piece. I keep it out on a shelf, and I enjoy it when people here
in Washington ask what it’s for because I get to tell them about
Trice and Iowa State,” says Miller.
Another writer who often talks about Trice is Steve Jones, an
ISU staffer who wrote the children’s book, Football’s Fallen Hero:
The Jack Trice Story. A few times a year Jones is invited to an area
elementary or middle school to tell the story.
“I notice the African American boys the most,” says Jones
(’80 journalism; MA ’89). “I’ll tell this story and they are just
staring at me in awe. I can’t tell if it’s because Trice is such a
role model or the thought that someone could be discriminated
against or be targeted because he is black.”
One of the young men who has heard Jones speak is Cyclone
quarterback Austen Arnaud, a junior in communications studies.
Arnaud grew up in Ames and was familiar with the story as
a kid because his dad, John, was a Cyclone player in the 1980s. Arnaud finds inspiration in Trice.
“He had tremendous courage – to have the odds stacked
against him in that day and time. So many people didn’t want
to see him on that field,” says Arnaud.
Arnaud often educates Cyclone players from out of state
about the university and community, the rivalry with Iowa, and,
of course, Jack Trice.
“I’ve told the story. It’s a great one,” says Arnaud. “If anyone
is willing to listen and asks, I’ll tell them.”
Like the most enduring stories, the Trice story has a lot of
entry points. It’s obviously a great sports story. It’s also a story
about a state’s and a nation’s racial history. And it’s the story of a
university – one that says so much about what is truly good and
yet sometimes troublesome about the place. Ultimately, though, it’s the story of a good and worthy man. It’s the story of Jack Trice.
A Life Too Short
Sentiments expressed by Jack Trice’s mother
and widow serve as testaments to the impact he had
on people’s lives.
A few days after Trice’s funeral, his mother, Anna,
wrote these heartbreaking words to ISC President
“If there is anything in the life of John Trice and his
career that will be an inspiration to the colored students
who come to Ames, he has not lived and died in vain. But
Mr. President, while I am proud of his honors, he was all
I had and I am old and alone. The future is dreary and
In 1988, Trice’s widow, Cora Mae Trice Greene,
sent this emotion-filled note to Iowa State after she
had received a photo of the Trice statue that had been
dedicated that year on campus:
“....Jack’s passing was a great shock to me. He was my
first love, and I have many beautiful memories of him and
our short life together. The night that he was leaving for
Minnesota with his coach, he came to tell me goodbye.
We kissed and hugged and he told me that he would come
back to me as soon as he could.
“The day of the game, I was [on campus], and I heard
it announced that he had been injured. I stood and bowed
my head and then I heard that he walked from the field.
I felt somewhat relieved. Monday noon I was in the
cafeteria. His fraternity brother, Mr. Harold Tutt, came
to me and said that I was to go to the campus hospital. I
did. When I saw him I said, ‘Hello, Darling.’ He looked at
me, but never spoke. I remember hearing the Campanile chime 3 o’clock. That was Oct. 8th, 1923, and he was gone.”
About the writer | Steve Sullivan is an Ames-based freelance writer.
The research and resulting essay by Dr. Dorothy Schwieder was commissioned as part of the Iowa Art in State Buildings Program in support of the I Will! public art project for the ISU Athletic Department by the University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.