Rubama: Former Norcom and Elizabeth City State star’s book mines the CIAA’s rich history
By Larry Rubama, The Virginian-Pilot,2021-05-28
The CIAA is the oldest African American athletic conference in the United States.
It was originally known as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association, but changed to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1950.
All of these facts were new to me prior to moving to Hampton Roads in 2000.
The CIAA was founded in 1912 on the campus of Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. Along with Hampton, the conference included Howard University (Washington, D.C.), Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), Shaw University (North Carolina) and Virginia Union University. Norfolk State joined in 1962.
Hampton left in 1995, and NSU departed the following year.
Old-timers still reminisce about the conference’s great athletes and amazing tradition, and I learned even more recently when I read a book entitled, “A Pictorial History of CIAA Professionals from 1950-1984.”
The book arrived, ironically, on the same day former CIAA stars Bobby Dandridge and Ben Wallace were selected for enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
They will be enshrined on Sept. 11, 2021.
The book’s author, Argle “A.B.” Whitfield, was a highly accomplished scholastic and collegiate athlete. He starred in football, wrestling and track at Norcom High in Portsmouth. In college, he played in the CIAA at Elizabeth City State, where he became the school’s first athlete to make All-CIAA in three sports in the same year. He also received All-American recognition in those sports.
Whitfield was inducted into the Norcom High Hall of Fame and Elizabeth City State University Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame. And in 2011, he was inducted into the Hampton Roads African American Sports Hall of Fame.
After he graduated from Elizabeth City State, Whitfield played professional football with the Montreal Alouettes, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos. At the various camps he attended, he always ran into former CIAA athletes.
What bothered him is he didn’t feel the conference got the respect it deserved.
That led to his book, which he finished a first printing of in 1985. He reprinted and updated it in 2019 in commemorative edition.
“I refused to let it go,” Whitfield said about the book, which took him nine years to complete. “The first book didn’t look good because I wanted to put it out so fast. So I took my time this time and did it right. I also made a nicer cover and did some more research for it.”
There were days when he admittedly got discouraged.
Thankfully, others pushed him to finish the book, including legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines. He led Winston-Salem State University to 12 CIAA championships in his illustrious 47-year career. He is one of the few Blacks to be inducted as a coach into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“He told me to tell the story,” Whitfield said. “The more I dug into it, the more I found, and the prouder I got. It went from 100 pages to 200 pages to more than 400 pages.”
The book features photographs and stories about athletes from 19 CIAA schools, including Hampton, Norfolk State, Elizabeth City State and North Carolina A&T.
One of the things he learned through his research was that six former CIAA athletes played in Super Bowl III, including Cornell Gordon, who graduated from Booker T. Washington High in Norfolk and played at North Carolina A&T, and Charlie Stukes, who graduated from Crestwood High in Chesapeake and played at Maryland State College .
Gordon, who played for the New York Jets, and Stukes, who played for Baltimore, were the first players from South Hampton Roads to play in a Super Bowl when the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969.
“I could ask nine out of 10 people to tell me the six guys from the CIAA who played in that game,” Whitfield said, “and I betcha no one could tell me.”
Gordon, named All-CIAA in football and baseball , has three pages dedicated to his success with North Carolina A&T.
“It’s history. A lot of people don’t know the people who came out of those eras,” Gordon said. “A lot of people never heard of those guys like Earl Monroe, who went on to play pro basketball.”
Another local player featured in the book is former Norview High basketball star Charlie Hatcher, who was one of the first Blacks to integrate Norfolk Public Schools , along with Andrew Heidelberg , who also is featured in the book.
At 6-foot-4 with a 40-inch vertical jump, Hatcher averaged 25 points and was named second-team All-American in 1965. He was a late cut from the 1968 Olympic team but accepted a scholarship to play for legendary Elizabeth City State University basketball coach Robert L. “Bobby” Vaughan, who died earlier this month .
“I am extremely proud and humbled to be in this book,” Hatcher said. “The CIAA was the first and oldest Black athletic conference. And there are CIAA legends all over the world. This book needs to be in every African American program in the country, and in the school system.”
Former Norfolk State star football player John Flowers, a former two-time All-CIAA defensive back, is also in the book.
He, like Hatcher, was honored.
“I thought he did an outstanding job putting it together,” Flowers said. “A lot of folks don’t know about the CIAA. Back in the day, some great athletes came out of there. I was glad to be a part of it.”
Legendary basketball coaches John B. McLendon Jr. and LeRoy T. Walker also are featured, as are reporters who covered the CIAA, including Cal Jacox of the Journal and Guide, and Abe Goldblatt of The Virginian-Pilot.
Whitfield hopes the book will educate people about the CIAA and also celebrate the accomplishments of so many great athletes.
“Many will say they didn’t know about the history, but that’s because nobody put it out to them,” said Whitfield, who hopes to do another volume that will include athletes from 1984 to 2004. “Now they know. And for the younger kids, I want them to know their history. A lot of them just don’t know, but they need know.”
To purchase the book, go to https://www.ciaasportsbook.com.
Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, firstname.lastname@example.org