When I was in high school at first the coach’s name was Bill Kaylor. Mr. Kaylor did not think that playing more than two black people at the time was a good idea. It did not make any difference how good they were, how tall they were or how productive they were, he would not start a team with more than two black players. Occasionally he might put three in during a road game, and on rare occasions he played three at home, but he generally stuck to his “two is enough rule.”
I know a lot of younger folks who do not really know the racial history of Xenia will find it amazing that even in sports racism reared its ugly head frequently, but it did. I have already written about how we called the league we were in, the WOL, the White Only League, since virtually none of the other high schools we played had any black students. Springfield South was virtually the only exception.
I remember going to football games in high school where black boys would carry the football down to the one or two yard line and the coach would then give the ball to a white boy to carry it into the end zone on the next play. That way the white boys, like Beals would get the stats, even though they were not nearly the athletes some of the black boys were who were doing the lion’s share of the work.
The black people grumbled and complained, but it was part of the way things were. White folks were going to do what white folks did and it was going to advantage white folks. Not much we could do about it but acknowledge it to each other and commiserate.
But, I digress, back to basketball–after all my Tarheels are playing those nasty Dukies tonight. I was in the stands at the Field House, for all the home games while I was in high school and probably most of them for years afterward . The Field House was a venerable and quite impressive facility, at least I always thought so.
So I was at the game the night the entire East End was holding its collective breath. Old Coach Kaylor finally retired, I think it was before my senior year and the new coach was named Rollie Barton. Rollie did not share Kaylor’s racist attitudes and played the boys he thought were the best players.
Shortly after I graduated in 1966 the rumor ran through the East End like a whirlwind that, having both the Byrd boys, Mike and Ray, Rollie was going to start five black guys, the first time that would have happened at XHS.
My husband and I always bought season tickets and were virtually the only black folks in our reserved section. We arrived at the game early, making our way down to our seats which were in the third row from the floor on the left hand side of the facility, not far from the stage. My son, Michael, who would later be a star three sports athlete at Xenia High, was two or three years old and with us for the game.He was learning to count by twos by keeping score of baskets. He was obsessed with sports even then and the easiest way to make something academic relevant to him was to link it to sports.
The horn sounded for the game to start and the visiting team was announced first. When it came time to announce the Xenia team virtually all of the people older than 12 in the audience were on the edge of their seats. The rumor about Rollie starting five black boys was not confined to the East End.
First player is announced, he is black, second player is announced, a Garner, and although he is bi-racial and could pass for white, he is to us and identifies as, black, the third player is announced, black, the fourth player is announced, black player, by now anyone who has any knowledge of Xenia basketball knows that the only person left to be announced is one of our best players, Ray Byrd, unless Rollie is punishing him or afraid to break the taboo, this is going to be an historic night.
The announcer, I swear, hesitates when announcing ” for Xenia, starting at guard……. Ray Bird.” The traditional black section of the Field House, that nearest the front door, goes wild. I am sure the people we were playing, I do not remember who the opponent was, wondered what all the hoopla was about. Then again it being the WOL, perhaps their own eyes provided all they needed to know.
Black people in the late sixties, early seventies did not have a lot of victories to celebrate in Xenia. We were rarely hired for city jobs, the police force, the fire department, the banks, they law offices, as store clerks, as teachers, but for one night at least, at the venerable Field House we were part of history.
Oh, and we won the game too.