W&J and WVU Team to Honor Revolutionary African-American College Athlete

WASHINGTON, PA (Aug. 31, 2011)—As the Presidents prepare to kick off their 120th football season this Saturday, Sept. 3, Washington & Jefferson College will honor the memory of a player who advanced the role of African-Americans in collegiate sports.

Charles “Pruner” West, a 1924 graduate of W&J, led the Presidents to their only Rose Bowl appearance in 1922 against the University of California, becoming the first African-American quarterback to play in the nation’s oldest bowl game.

To recognize West’s contributions, Dana Brooks, dean and professor of physical education at West Virginia University and co-author of Racism in College Athletics: The African-American Experience, is presenting W&J with a poster of West to display in the U. Grant Miller Library. The event, to be held at the library Thursday, Sept. 1, at 1 p.m., will be attended by members of West’s family, including his daughter, Linda West Nickens of Alexandria, Va. Representing Washington High School, where West also played football, will be Joe Nicolella, director of athletics.

The dedication coincides with the 90th anniversary of the Presidents’ journey to the Rose Bowl, which ended in the only scoreless tie in Rose Bowl history.

“Charles West was an outstanding high school and college student-athlete,” Brooks said. “His legacy is one of courage, dedication, sacrifice and good sportsmanship.”

At W&J, West is best known for his involvement in a legendary 1923 match between the Presidents and the Washington & Lee Generals. It was the tradition of the Southern school, at the time, to request that Northern teams bench their African-American players. When W&J refused to bench West, the Presidents were required to pay the Generals a portion of the proceeds that would have come from ticket sales and drop out of the game. The W&J team made the decision knowing that West had a sprained ankle and would not have been able to play.

“W&J’s refusal to bench Charles West in the game against Washington & Lee reflects the principles of uncommon integrity that we teach our graduates to emulate,” Tori Haring-Smith, president of W&J, said. “We are extremely proud of Dr. West’s achievements as a student-athlete and physician, and we are honored to call him a distinguished alumnus of W&J.”

After graduating from W&J in 1924, West earned a doctor of medicine degree from Howard University and practiced medicine in Alexandria, Va. He was recognized by W&J with its Distinguished Service Award in 1973 and inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 197

(end)
 

Dana Brooks (right), dean and professor of physical education at WVU, left, and Linda West Nickens. (photos by Martha Rial)