Breaking the color barrier: Offering a small apology
Published 2:01 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Editor’s note: This is the final piece in a three-part series, detailing how public school sports were desegregated.
In 2001, Andy Heidelberg finally got his bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University, which he used in 2003 to qualify for a job as Chief Deputy Treasurer for the City of Hampton. He retired in 2005, at age 62, and was selected by Governor Mark Warner to serve a two-year term as a member of the newly formed Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Awards Committee.
In 2011, he was awarded one of those scholarships to do graduate work at ODU. It is worth noting that the chief architect of this scholarship program, Ken Woodley, former editor of The Farmville Herald, not only came up with the idea, but also put in the time and effort necessary to get it passed by the General Assembly. It is fitting that a prominent Farmvillian played a key role in helping to establish a scholarship that could be seen in 2011 as a small apology for Farmville’s insult to Mr. Heidelberg fifty years earlier, in 1961.
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Andrew I. Heidelberg was born in Norfolk on November 2, 1943, to Lena and Colonal M. Heidelberg (1923-2009). He was proud of the fact that, apart from being a good football player, he was an honor roll student for most of the three and one-half years he was at Norview. After he retired, he stayed busy writing books and screenplays about his adventures, e.g., The Norfolk 17 (2006) and The Colored Halfback, and attending graduate school at ODU. He died in Hampton on July 6, 2015, and was inducted into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame posthumously on October 20, 2015. He was survived by his wife, Luressa.
Kenneth B. Whitley was quite the athlete, lettering in football, baseball, and wrestling all four years at Norview. Ken was a three-year letterman in football and wrestling at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1968. In 1990, he was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. He taught and coached for 35 years in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Looking back, Ken says, “Being with him that one year probably changed my life. I’ve dedicated my life to making sure kids that I coached had a fair and square opportunity to win and lose in athletics.”
Calvin J. Zongolowicz (1943-2012) died in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on February 20, 2012. Zongo was perhaps Andy’s best friend, and certainly his best White friend, in the whole world. According to Andy, “Whitley and I are close but Zongo is my main man. There’s something special about him — there is not one ounce of racism in Zongo.”
Coach John S. “Buck” Moody (1933-2016) played football as a four-year starter for Virginia Tech, graduated in 1958, and was hired as defensive coach at Norview High School. Although the school was closed during the 1958 football season, Norview still played a full schedule and went 9-0-1. Lest you think that they had an unfair advantage in 1958, they did even better after the school reopened. In 1959, they finished 10-0-0 and won the State Championship. In 1972, he returned to Virginia Tech as assistant director of the Student Aid Association, now known as the Virginia Tech Athletic Fund. In 2011, he was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. After more than 40 years, he retired in 2013, at which time he was associate director of Development for Intercollegiate Athletics. (A contemporary of Moody’s at VT was 1958 engineering honor graduate Charlie L. Yates, the first Black to graduate from a four-year White public university in the South. Ironically, Yates was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk. Yates went on to earn a master’s degree from Cal Tech, a PhD from Johns Hopkins, and joined the engineering faculty at VT in 1979.)
It is interesting to note that back in 1954, Norfolk Catholic High School integrated voluntarily and without incident. In 1953, Irving L. Peddrew III enrolled as an engineering student at VT, making it the first four-year White public university in the South to admit a Black undergraduate. In 1954, VT admitted three more Black students, all from Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk. Of these first four Black students, only Yates graduated. Peddrew-Yates Hall was named to honor the first to enroll and the first to graduate and, in 2016, VT awarded Peddrew an honorary BS in electrical engineering. In 1968, Jerry Gaines (track) became the first Black athlete at Virginia Tech.
Jerry Claiborne (1928-2000) became head football coach at Virginia Tech in 1961, the same year Andy started at halfback for Norview. Jerry would have loved to have Andy play for Virginia Tech, but the timing was not right — some teams would not schedule an integrated team home and home. The timing was finally right in 1969 and both Virginia Tech and VMI recruited Black running backs. (The first Black to play football at a White college in Virginia was Carlyle Whitelow at Bridgewater College in 1955, and Hampden-Sydney continued to play them. Carlyle graduated in 1959.)
Other southern college coaches, such as Bear Bryant, had a harder row to hoe. He sat by helplessly as some of the best players in the South were recruited by Alabama rivals outside the South. Finally, when he could stand it no longer, he demonstrated to Alabama fans the necessity of recruiting Black players by scheduling a team (Southern Cal) with a Black player (Sam Cunningham) who single-handedly “ran over and through” Alabama at home in 1970. Jerry Claiborne said that this move by his old boss “did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years.”
Locally, Hampden-Sydney College and Longwood admitted their first Black students in 1968. HSC’s first Black student was also its first Black athlete — basketball player Alfonso O’neil-White. He went on to get a law degree from Louisville. Longwood’s first Black student, Nancy “Cookie” Scott, pictured as a sophomore in The Virginian of 1970, graduated in 1972.
Longwood did not recruit its first Black athlete until 1970 — basketball player Nanette Fisher. She was the first to live totally on campus and was named State Player of the Year in 1973 and 1974. Upon graduation, she taught at Thomas Dale High School. In 1979, she became a graduate assistant to coach Pat Summit (1952-2016) at Tennessee. Nanette then returned to Longwood where she spent 1981-85 as assistant woman’s basketball coach, head volleyball coach, and head softball coach. As softball coach, she amassed an impressive five-year record of 57-43. (Longwood did not go co-ed until 1976.)
DR. RAY A. GASKINS serves as professor emeritus at Hampden-Sydney College.