Football, Basketball, etc. - Woven With Words
Donald Liguori and others contributed to this article
Berks County has produced many gifted African American athletes. Many Berks athletes have been products of Reading High, and some of these students have gone on to play professional sports. Other professional athletes who passed through Reading or Berks County made history while they were here.
Legendary Lenny Moore is an inductee into the NFL Hall of Fame (see article on Moore in this book). Bruce Gilmore played football and wrestled for the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions from 1955 to 1958, and then went on to an NFL career.
Donyell Marshall was drafted by the NBA in 1994, and currently plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Marshall has helped children in each community where he has played through scholarships, monetary donations, and free tickets. But he has also remained active in Reading, “quietly and unassumingly” (R. Jackson 2003, 1), by supporting numerous programs for children, including the Blacktop Basketball, Inc., a program begun in 1991 by Wayne Duncan, Tony Green, Gary Hines, and Rick and Roy Pegram.
Another basketball notable is Stu Jackson, who played college basketball at Oregon University. He suffered a career-ending injury in a motorcycle crash, but then began a coaching career that included a stint as head coach for the New York Knicks. He currently is Senior Vice President of NBA Operations. In a 2005 interview, Jeffery White, Reading High’s athletic coordinator, stated that “Stu Jackson is one step away from being the commissioner of the NBA, which is a big deal for a graduate from Reading High, but more importantly, for an African American graduate.”
Track and Field
Reading High track and field is known throughout the county. Many African American athletes have participated in the program, including a number of women. One in particular is Christian Robertson, who in the 1990s chalked up track and field records that are yet to be broken.
Jeffery White, who ran for Reading High in the early 1980s, held many records in track and earned individual championships in the Central Penn League. He made the men’s 4x100 relay team, which is the highest honor for an athlete at Reading High.
Boxing has deep roots in Berks County, and numerous African Americans have contributed to its history here. One of the first was Paulie Jackson, a world featherweight contender from 1940 to 1953. He fought in six world championships and 125 professional bouts. Heavyweight Freddie “Chubby Wright” Morrison fought in the U.S. and Canada in the 1950s. Richard “Dickie” Stern is another professional boxer from Reading. The last well-known heavyweight boxer from Berks was Jeff White.
Steve Little, the first African American to run for county prothonotary (he was unsuccessful), was a world champion boxer, winning the World Boxing Association Super Middleweight championship in 1994 by beating Super Middleweight Champion Michael Nunn in London. In 1996, Little became the IBC Super Middleweight Champion in a fight held at Reading’s Municipal Stadium. Little was managed by well-known boxing promoter Don King for part of his career.
Little also worked for Reading’s recreation department as director of a federally-funded program called Recreational Activities for Teens. Little died from colon cancer in 2000 at the age of 34, leaving behind a wife, Wanda, and six young children. Little’s legacy is best understood by a statement made by his widow Wanda after his death: “He was a good man” (“This Time” 2000).
Freddie Richardson won a state championship in wrestling for Reading High School. He is currently a professional wrestling referee and a member of the Wrestling Hall of Fame as a referee.
Ray Johnson, a 1989 graduate of Holy Name High School, was honored in 2003 with the AFLAC National Assistant Coach of the Year award, one of only five Pennsylvanians to have received it. Johnson, who works for Met-Ed, has held numerous coaching positions at Holy Name.