Update… From the Carter Years

Posted: 9 July by Brett Hoover in Alumni, Cornell
Tags: ,

When I first arrived at the Ivy League office back in 2000, John Thompson III was hired as Princeton’s basketball coach.

Upon my return from the press conference, I took a call from a writer for a nationally-prominent newspaper who asked, “Does this make Thompson the first black head basketball coach in Ivy League history?”

My response threw him. “Actually, this makes Princeton the eighth of eight Ivy schools to have a black head basketball coach,” I said.

Not to be deterred by facts, that reporter went on to write about Thompson forging his way in the ‘lily-white’ (his words) Ivy League.

It was that early experience that led me to realize that the Ivy League needed an online Black History Month presence, one that could separate some of the myth from some of the fact. And I also knew about a number of amazing stories from around the League, from Fritz Pollard to Brud Holland. From John Baxter Taylor to William Clarence Matthews.

But at that time, there were two particular stories I wished to share. One was the unknown Taylor, who was the first African-American to win a gold medal at the Olympics. I asked Dave Johnson, who had told me about Taylor, if he wanted to write it and he did. It was (and remains) the most comprehensive piece on Taylor’s life.

The other story I wanted to share was of another Philadelphian — Irvin “Bo” Roberson — who excelled in three sports at Cornell, won an Olympic silver medal in the long jump, was a new breed of NFL receiver in the 1960s and earned a doctorate at the age of 58. Jeremy Schaap told me that famous father knew Roberson from his Cornell days and he was convinced that “Roberson was the best natural athlete ever in the Ivy League.”

Yet despite talking to dozens of people about Roberson, he was mysterious in many ways. People remembered him vividly, for his athleticism, his style and his intellect, but it seemed that no one knew him well or stayed connected with him for any length of time. When Cornell inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1978, even Roberson’s mother didn’t know his whereabouts.

The old U.S. International University in California had record of him earning his Ph.D. in the early 1990s and he was found dead in Pasadena, Calif., in April of 2001, but otherwise the last 25 years of his life were out of my reach at the time. I was still able to focus on his athletic career and that story was published in 2004. (Note: You should at least read the story to see what Roberson did to gold medalist Ralph Boston on the stadium infield at the Rome Olympics after Boston beat him by a mere centimeter.)

As it often does, the internet can yield elusive information and, in regards to this story, nearly six years later, an email was forwarded to me which gave additional information on Roberson. Greg Abramowitz of Redondo Beach, Calif., had written:

“In the article it said that the story went cold, and Bo’s whereabouts are unknown after 1973. [I] can fill you in on some of that time, because he was one of [my] high school coaches at Rolling Hills High School in Palos Verdes (now called Peninsula High). He was a great man and made a big influence on many of our lives. It was a privilege to have known him. I knew him from 1976-1981 when he coached track and football. I don’t know how long of his “missing 15 years” were spent in Palos Verdes, but I’m sure of the time I spent with him.”

Greg also sent me a photo of Roberson from either 1980 or 1981 (above and on the right). It is the most recent image that I have ever seen.

It is good to see him smiling. And it is great to know that in that “missing time” he was making a difference for young people.


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