Originally published in:
Friday, October 22, 1993
Elson Armstrong Jr.
TRACK If North Carolina is a state noted for collegiate champions in various sports, then the banner of the N.C. Central Eagles flies as high and proud as any.
In the 70 years that NCCU has fielded athletic teams, the Eagles have won national championships in football, basketball and track.
They have played in bowl games in front of thousands of people from Yankee Stadium to the Orange Bowl. While many larger schools have yet to have a hall-of-famer, NCCU can lay claim to three in coaches John B. McLendon and LeRoy T. Walker, and in former Boston Celtics great Sam Jones.
McLendon, one of the pioneer African-American coaches in college basketball, is enshrined in the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., alongside John Wooden, Adolph Rupp and Clarence "Big House" Gaines.
Father of `four corners'
McLendon, who at one time was a student of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was also the real innovator of what is now known as the "four corners" offense. Between 1940 and 1952, McLendon's basketball teams at NCCU amassed a 264-60 record, a winning percentage of a remarkable .810.
His very first team at NCCU was declared Negro National Champion by the Associated Negro Press, and he coached the Eagles to the first CIAA Tournament championship victory in 1946.
NCCU has yet another basketball member in the Hall of Fame in the person of Sam Jones, who became one of the NBA's all-time greats during his tenure with the Boston Celtics. Boston won eight NBA titles with Jones in the backcourt with Bob Cousy. The big man in the middle was Bill Russell.
In track and field, coach LeRoy T. Walker was someone to brag about.
For four decades, Walker coached NCCU's track team, which produced at least one Olympian in 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976 and even the U.S.-led boycott year, 1980.
Walker also coached the '76 U.S. team in Montreal. The sprawling athletics complex on the NCCU campus is named after Walker and has been the site of several national and international swimming and wrestling competitions, including the 1987 U.S. Olympic Festival.
Walker now chairs the U.S. Olympic Committee.
NCCU's shining moment in sports took place during eight days in March 1989, when the basketball team won the NCAA Division II title, bringing Durham its first national basketball title of any sort.
On March 17, the Eagles began the ride to glory with a 67-64 win over Norfolk State in the South Atlantic Regional semifinals.
The next night, NCCU shocked top-ranked Virginia Union 60-55 to qualify for the Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass.
On March 23, the Eagles clipped hometown favorite Sacred Heart 58-57 to earn a Final Four berth against Jacksonville State, a 20-point favorite.
NCAA basketball title
NCCU beat the spread and Jacksonville State before moving on and crushing Southeastern Missouri State 73-46 for the national championship.
The 27-point margin of victory remains an NCAA title game all-division record.
Coach Michael Bernard was named 1989 NCAA II coach of the year.
The Eagles made it back to the Elite Eight this March before losing to eventual national champion Cal-State Bakersfield.
The 1993-94 Eagles go into the season ranked third nationally.
Herman Riddick, a native of Georgia who moved to Durham in the 1930s and turned the city's all-black Hillside High School into a southeastern regional and national football powerhouse, showed that he could also win big on the collegiate level when he took over the NCCU football program in 1945.
NCCU is the only Triangle university that claims a national championship in football, having won the 1954 Black National Title thanks to a 19-6 win over perennial power Tennessee State in Greensboro.
Riddick was also at the helm in 1963 when the Eagles went 8-1 and finished the season ranked second. The lone loss was a 15-14 heartbreaker to Virginia Union.
Riddick retired after the 1965 season; his final game was a 7-6 win over archrival A&T in Greensboro. He died in 1968.
In 1972, with George Quiett running the show, NCCU soared to the top of the Sheridan Poll's national rankings going 9-1 and played Grambling for the Black National Championship in Wallace Wade Stadium.
Unfortunately, Eddie Robinson's Grambling Tigers thrashed the Eagles 56-6.
In 1988, Eagles quarterback Earl "Air" Harvey set an NCAA Division II career passing mark with more than 11,500 yards.
The Eagles' football fortunes are now in the hands of pro football hall of famer Larry Little.
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By My (Bro. Askia) Count NCCU Has Won The Following:
CIAA Football Championships in 1953, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1980, 2005 and 2006.
MEAC Football Championships in 1972 & 1973
(Some Say?) Black National Championship in 1954 and 2006
Freedom To Play: HBCU Basketball - Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association
Colored Intercollegiate Athletics Association (1912-1950)
Mid-Eastern Athletics Conference
Southwestern Athletic Conference
Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Black College Football National Champions