Following a beautiful piano prelude, President John cut short a myriad of pleasant table conversations with a smack of the Rotary bell. A crowded Anderson Room rose in unison to sing “God Bless America,” hands firmly over hearts. John then stepped aside as Ian Bund came to the podium to deliver the Inspiration. “Thank you, President John, and good afternoon everyone,” he began. “Rotarians have two more nights to attend a performance of this year’s ‘Wine, Women & Song’…[which] is an indication of the robust academic, sporting, and cultured life we enjoy in Ann Arbor.” After urging his fellow Rotarians to scurry to Kerrytown Concert House to take in one of the shows, Ian, who had attended the preview, described some of the performances: “The performers are excellent, and you have to hear Deanna Relyea sing….”
A highly accomplished investor, particular in the venture capital arena, Ian then offered a thoughtful appraisal of today’s challenging political environment. A central theme was the crucial importance of “integrity, of being a doer, not just a ‘BS-er. I am in awe of what can be accomplished.” In conclusion, Ian made a case for the removal of the Line 5 pipeline across Mackinac Straits — “It threatens our Pure Michigan” – then displayed his love of sport by declaring, “I have recently taken up pickleball.” In an instant he removed paddle and ball from behind the podium, and whacked a smart one to pickleball partner John Atwater.
Next came the song, and maestros Don Duquette and Joan Knoertzer delivered! First was an ably sung “As Time Goes By,” which, as Don explained, “was a hit initially, but then waned in popularity, only to be revived with the film, ‘Casablanca.’” Then came a touching rendition of the Gershwin’s 1926 hit, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Your reporter was startled by the range and timber of his own voice, and attributed it to the change of weather and a good breakfast. He then glanced left and saw Steve Pierce.
“What a wonderful way to get started,” President John declared. After welcoming everyone, he asked Rotarians to introduce their guests. They were as follows:
Past President Ashish Sarkar and Rosemarie Rowney: Katie Brown, assistant to the provost, UM.
Betsy Hammond: Caroline De Paulos, of UM Hematology.
PP Beth Fitzimmons: Darlene Sosenko, owner, Joy Fitness Center.
Joanne Pierson: Karen Wasco (“And Karen’s a prospective new member!” Joanne asserted.)
Burt Voss: Dr. Robert Reed
John then reminded the assembly of the memorial service for PP Collyer and Annie Smith’s son, Cam: 2:00 p.m., February 3, at First Presbyterian. [At the announcement one could feel the spontaneous cascade of love and sympathy toward Collyer and his family. Unmistakable, though silent, and typically Rotarian.]
John then made the proud announcement that Pioneer and Huron High School Junior Rotarians have received presidential citations from Rotary International. Anne Nauts presented certificates.
Student Hosting Opportunity: “We’re working hard to find a hosting family for a student athlete from the Czech Republic,” John began. “Her present hosting, by a family from Rotary North, is coming to an end in February. She will need a family until June, when the academic year ends.” Anyone who would like to help, please contact John.
Regarding Rotary Meeting Speakers for the Future: “Go to the a2rotary.org website to nominate speakers. We’re looking for ‘speakers of a different kind,’” John noted in response to members’ requests for a varied range of speakers representing a breadth of experiences and accomplishments.
Burt Voss came to the podium to introduce our speaker, historian Scott Ellsworth. “Scott beautifully documents the [racial and developmental] changes in basketball in his book, The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph,” Burt asserted. “He has been featured on NBC’s ‘Today Show,’ NPR, and many other. Let’s give Scott Ellsworth a warm Rotary welcome!”
“I am honored to be with you today to speak about my book, The Secret Game,” Dr. Ellsworth began. “In Durham, North Carolina, there was an illegal game between a team from an all-black college and a white team from Duke. It was before its time – 1944 – ten years before the Brown decision, 20 years before Selma, and three years before Jackie Robinson desegregated baseball; a story about a forgotten era, before Civil Rights gets underway.” Dr. Ellsworth then described the evolution of his love of basketball (“the disease for which there is no cure”), and its invention “at the last minute” by James Naismith in 1891, using a soccer ball and peach basket. Over time, Ellsworth noted, “basketball became a vehicle of enlightenment as to who we are as a people.”
However, the new sport as played had a major disadvantage – it was slow. Public embrace echoed the slogging pace, this despite basketball’s advent as an exhibition, non-medal, sport at the 1904 Olympics. Subsequent rule changes (and an athlete named McLendon) finally permitted fast, high-scoring games. More on this later. “College ball is really where it’s at,” Ellsworth observed. “That’s where the changes take place.” But what to write about within the basketball universe? The historian cast about for a milestone game. “I knew race had something to do with it.” He had almost settled on the monumental Final Four showdown in 1957 between North Carolina and Kansas. Though won in triple overtime by NC, the tournament saw Kansas’ Wilt Chamberlain emerge as Most Outstanding Player. [By the way, RCAA’s own Jim Cook immediately provided the answer to Dr. Ellsworth’s question of who the finalists were.]
Then he found 1944. Anchored smack in the middle of the war, the year revealed the triumph Ellsworth had been looking for…and Coach John B. McLendon, Jr., the first African-American basketball player to integrate a team. “This happened in ’44,” Ellsworth exclaimed, “not 1957! At that moment I saw my plans for the ’57 Final Four sink beneath the waves.” Yet in meeting Coach McLendon, he discovered something truly significant: in basketball “African-Americans were fighting an undeclared war against Jim Crow in the South.” And thanks to McLendon, “the father of modern basketball,” the game had picked up. “They’re going so fast the refs are getting winded, scoring 70-90 points a game. This hadn’t been done before.” Another development came from this – “full-court, high-pressure defense.”
Meanwhile, back to integration. “Black athletes, some of them vets, were eating in whites only restaurants.” Ditto for some white athletes, in black establishments. It was the beginning of massive change, “10 years before Rosa Parks, Montgomery, and Martin Luther King.” The 1944 match-up featured Duke University’s all white team, comprised of medical students, and players from North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University). It would be played in NCC’s small gym. There would be no spectators, however, as the game “violated the state’s segregation laws.” Sunday, March 12. Most of Durham’s police force would be in church. Nonetheless, the Duke students drove circuitous routes to the black college, collars high on their heads. At the gym, Ellsworth noted, “the black athletes wondered whether they could compete against whites.” There were anxieties as to how to handle fouls, whether fights would break out. In the end the score told it all: NCC 88, Duke 44. After the big game the teams decided to play another, with teams scrambled! Another first. In conclusion, Dr. Ellsworth noted: “Basketball and the military, in my lifetime, have done the most to desegregate America.”
His audience gave spontaneous, grateful applause. It had been an unforgettable speech. After thanking Dr. Ellsworth, John reminded us of JET: Join leaders; Exchange ideas; Take action.