WASHINGTON, PA (Dec. 15, 2017) - During the 2018 Tournament of Roses, Washington & Jefferson College celebrated its historic 1922 appearance and the induction of Dr. Charles “Pruner” West ’24 into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
West's daughter, Linda Nickens, was on hand during the induction ceremony to represent her late father, and rode in the Rose Bowl parade along with her two children. She spoke to the Washington Post and recalled her father's memory fondly.
“He’s kind of my hero,” Nickens told the Post. “I don’t know too many men like him. I don’t want to start crying, but he taught me the good lessons about family and how to deal with people. People in Alexandria would say he was the kindest man they knew.”
The story of the 1922 Rose Bowl has reached legendary status: the improbable tale of a small school from western Pennsylvania that overcame obstacles, made it to Pasadena, and made history in the process.
The game remains the only scoreless tie in Rose Bowl game history, an accomplishment likely to remain with the implementation of overtime to settle ties in college football. Unique to W&J that day was that despite traveling across the country with 17 players, the Presidents played just 11, meaning that those 11 played every snap on both sides of the ball. It was also the final Rose Bowl game at Tournament Park in Pasadena before the event was moved to Rose Bowl Stadium, where it is held today.
Washington & Jefferson College had the best college football team on the east coast, coming off of an undefeated 1921 season, when the Tournament of Roses Association unanimously voted to invite the school to play in the 1922 Rose Bowl. The Bowl game posed a significant challenge: W&J’s opponent, the University of California “Golden Bears,” was arguably the best college football team on the west coast, and were still riding the high of topping Ohio State University in the 1921 Rose Bowl. W&J accepted the Rose Bowl invitation, but traveling to Pasadena proved to have its own set of difficulties.
According to E. Lee North’s football history, “Battling the Indians, Panthers, and Nittany Lions … The Story of Washington & Jefferson College’s First Century of Football, 1890-1990,” W&J could only afford to pay for the minimum number of players – 11 men – to travel by train to the Rose Bowl. North’s book notes that R.M. “Mother” Murphy, W&J’s athletic administrator, didn’t want to spend College funds on his own ticket and mortgaged his house to afford the trip.
When teammate C.L. Spillers came down with pneumonia and had to be left in Kansas City for treatment, W&J risked not having enough men to field a team, and there are differing accounts about how this problem was solved. According to North’s account, reserve player J. Ross “Bucky” Buchanan had stowed away on the train, and was given Spillers’s ticket when he was discovered. However, a Dec. 28, 1921 edition of the New York Tribune notes that Murphy sent for Al Haddon to take Spillers’s place. Buchanan is shown in team pictures taken in Pasadena.
Coached by Earle “Greasy” Neale, an athlete in his own right – he was an outfielder for the Cincinnati Redlegs when they played in the famed 1919 World Series – and led on the field by Charles West, the first black quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl, W&J fought the Golden Bears to a historic scoreless tie.
West was a phenomenal athlete who normally played halfback for W&J but stepped in as quarterback for the Rose Bowl due to team injuries and illnesses. His athletic endeavors didn’t stop at the Rose Bowl and weren’t limited to football. He also was an accomplished track and field competitor who won the National Collegiate Pentathlon at the Penn Relays in 1922 and 1923, and who was named to the 1924 U.S. Olympic team, although he did not participate due to injury. He went on to sign with the Akron Pros professional football team after graduating from W&J in 1924, but instead chose to retire from athletics and attend Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C.
For the next 50 years, West maintained a general medical practice in Alexandria, Virginia and his community service outshined his work on the athletic field. Despite encountering numerous instances of racism in the pre-Civil Rights era in both his athletic and medical career, West was respected and highly regarded by his teammates and those who knew him on and off the field. The Alexandria Urban League awarded him for his community service in 1973, and in 1978 he received a Howard University Medical Alumni Association citation for his years of practice. West also received the W&J Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 1978, and passed away the following year, on Nov. 20, 1979.
West was one of four men inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2018 along with former University of Texas head coach Mack Brown, UCLA quarterback Cade McNown and University of Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. He joined teammate Russ Stein '21 in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Stein, the Most Outstanding Player in the 1922 Rose Bowl, was part of the third class of inductees in 1991.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.