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Jack Trice

 







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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.

Ed DwightDwight’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
honor.

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 inspire reignited.

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 sharecroppers.

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 sorry.”

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. It read:

“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 and integrity.

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 frightening situation.”

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 deferential.



“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
Bronze
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.
U.2009.182.

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 story ideas.

“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
Cyclone hero. 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. It’s time.”

Miller’s editorial won first place in the 1997 Hearst
Journalism Awards.

“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
Raymond Pearson:

“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 lonesome.”

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.