Wednesday, August 16, 2017

For Linfielders, Augusta, Georgia, means college football, not professional golf

Augusta, Georgia.

Located on the Georgia/South Carolina boarder, Augusta is Georgia's second largest and second oldest city, about 150 miles east of Atlanta.

For many, Augusta means a prestigious professional golf tournament.

For Linfielders it means a 1965 championship college football game and a racist incident after that game.

Although the incident was negative, Linfield’s positive response, delivered by Paul Durham, Linfield football coach, is a never should be forgotten part of Linfield history.

The 1965 Linfield football Wildcats won all three of its non-conference games and all five Northwest Conference games going into the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) championship playoffs featuring four teams.

In the NAIA semi-finals, the Wildcats traveled to Midland, Texas, and upset favored Sul Ross State of Texas, 30-27.

Hotel Richmond -- now Richmond Summit, a low-income apartment complex -- on Broad Street in February 2017. Photo credit: Google Street View.

Linfield and St. John’s of Minnesota traveled to Augusta to practice prior to the game. Both teams stayed in Augusta Town House hotel which was headquarters for the teams and NAIA officials.

In the NAIA Championship Bowl game held Saturday afternoon, Dec. 11, 1965, at ARC (Academy of Richmond County) Stadium in Augusta, Linfield lost, 33-0.

Following the game, the Linfield and St. John’s football teams, coaches and staffs along with NAIA officials attended the NAIA Football Hall of Fame banquet in the historic Hotel Richmond in downtown Augusta. During the event five were inducted into the “Hall.”

The banquet included a sit-down meal for everyone in attendance. While that was the plan, everyone from Linfield sat down. No one from Linfield ate.

But first, some background…

Linfield 1965 football team player Odis Avritt (see photo of Odis as a Linfield football player), an African American, said, “Several days prior to the team departing McMinnville for Augusta, following practice, I sought out Coach Durham. Many questions were on my mind regarding going to the ‘Deep South’ and it seemed appropriate to share my concerns with him and get some answers to my apprehensions. My main question was, ‘Were we going to be separated as a team?’ ”

During times of overt racial discrimination, it was not uncommon for sports teams staying overnight on the road to have separate lodging, white players and coaches in a hotel and black players and coaches elsewhere.

“Realizing that the furthest East my travels had taken me was to St. Louis, Missouri, and Midland, Texas (for the Linfield vs. Sul Ross 1965 playoff football game), the idea of Georgia was beyond comprehension. Coach Durham assured me that the Linfield Wildcat football team would be together throughout the entire experience. Coach always had a way with words and you could trust his guidance. He said we would stay together as a team and we did,” Avritt said.


After the game as Linfield’s players, coaches and staff entered the hotel’s lobby en route to the banquet, Coach Durham was told by the hotel restaurant manager that any "colored people" -- for Linfield that meant African Americans and people of color from Hawaii -- with Linfield would have to eat in the restaurant’s kitchen.

Coach Durham’s immediate response was, "Then we (the entire Linfield contingent) will all eat in the kitchen."

When told there wasn't room in the kitchen for everyone from Linfield, he promptly stated "Then we won't eat."

And, indeed, the Linfielders attending the banquet did not eat while all others at the banquet not affiliated with Linfield did.

Another 1965 Linfield football player, Bob Haack (see photo of Bob as a Linfield football player), said “There was no hesitation in Coach Durham’s response. He was a man of principles. He always did what he knew was right. His players were always a team and not a group of individuals. I have reflected many times over the years as to the lesson his action gave about racial equality to both teams as well as to the hotel employees.”

Avritt added, “What happened at the banquet was a testimony of the man Coach Durham was and his commitment to his players and team.”

In December 2015, a column in the Augusta Chronicle daily newspaper discussed Augusta’s history as 1964 and 1965 NAIA “Championship Bowl football game site.

The column said the games were financial losers with the sponsoring organization being in debt after the 1965 (Linfield vs. St. John’s) game.

On Sept. 7, 1966, according to the column, it was announced the bowl game was leaving Augusta for Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The column said the NAIA “thought a city with a bigger population and a bigger stadium would be better than Augusta. A.J. Duer, executive secretary of the NAIA, said he ‘had hopes that Tulsa will be the permanent home of our Champion Bowl.’ It wasn’t. Tulsa didn’t even do as well as Augusta, and would only host the 1966 Champion Bowl game. The following year it moved to West Virginia, then Alabama, then Texas. In fact, since the Champion Bowl left Augusta 50 years ago, 25 cities have hosted it.”

That being said, the championship game move from Augusta took place for more than just than finances. Wildcatville speculates because of the racist incident and Coach Durham’s lobbying, the NAIA football championship game would not be held after 1965 in Augusta even if the 1964 and 1965 Champion Bowl games had been profitable financially.

Coach Durham did not want any team to experience the racism Linfield experienced in Augusta.

The racist incident happened to a Linfield team coached by Paul Durham, who, year-by-year was moving up the NAIA leadership hierarchy and would have become president of the NAIA Executive Board, the association’s highest ruling body covering the schools within the organization. He rose to third VP of the NAIA Executive Board. But, in 1968 resigned because he was leaving Linfield to become athletic director of the University of Hawaii, not a NAIA member.

The racist incident didn’t happen to Linfield football in a vacuum. It happened at the NAIA football Hall of Fame banquet in Augusta with NAIA officials, including A. J. Dauer, NAIA executive secretary, in attendance.

In Durham’s lobbying to get the championship football game moved from Augusta, he didn’t have to describe what happened to NAIA officials what happened. They were there.


The Coach Paul Durham statue/monument (see photo taken 5/4/2017) on the Linfield campus is near the Linfield Health, Human Performance and Athletics (HHPA) building, which opened in 1989. 
Engraved text which accompanies the statue/monument includes…

… “Long before racial sensitivity became a national issue, Durham judged his athletes by the strength of their character without regard to race or religion.

“He made a strong unpublicized statement for human and civil rights during the Champion Bowl in Augusta, Georgia, in December of 1965. When a hotel official wanted to serve the Black and Hawaiian members of the team in the kitchen at the banquet following the game, Durham advised the restaurant manager the entire team would eat in the kitchen.

“When the manager said there was not enough room to feed the team in the kitchen, the team stayed in the dining room but there was no food served at the Linfield tables.

“As a result of this incident and his personal lobbying efforts, the 1966 NAIA championship game was moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Such was the profound influence of a man whose memory is still alive in the hearts, minds, and actions of those he touched during his distinguished career and extraordinary life. One of life’s blessings was to be a friend of Paul Durham. He was a beacon of light in the darkest of times.”

Twice, most recently in 2014, the Linfield Board of Trustees was asked by alumni to name HHPA for Paul Durham. Twice the board said no.
Durham was more than a football coach. He was an extraordinary person. A talented Linfield student, including in athletics and music, his successes after graduating from Linfield are storied. He was a respected community leader in McMinnville. His teaching skills and leadership of Linfield teams and athletics and impact on players he coached are storied. You have the Augusta story to look into his soul.
In its written proposal to the board in 2014, a group of alums said, “From the date (1989 HHPA) opened its doors to the present, (HHPA) has had a generic name while the names of most other athletics-related facilities on campus memorialize former Linfield coaches. There is one person alone, Paul Durham … who deserves the honor of having his name on HHPA.”
In the aftermath of the board saying no in 2014, funds raised by friends of Paul Durham, many of them his former Linfield players, paid to have a statue/monument of him created and installed near HHPA. In concert with that, his name went on the front of HHPA to repeat the fact the lobby and foyer inside HHPA are named for him. But, the fact remains, Paul Durham’s name is on the building and inside the building. But, the building is not, as it should be, named for him.



-Odis Avritt and Bob Haack as Linfield football players. Photo credit: Linfield Sports Information.
-Coach Paul Durham Statue/Monument on Linfield campus on May 4, 2017. Photo credit: Wildcatville.

-Hotel Richmond -- now Richmond Summit, a low-income apartment complex -- on Broad Street in February 2017. Photo credit: Google Street View.


See 'Linfield College Football history: Bowl and iconic games'