February 25, 2013
A History-Making Tradition: Attucks vs. Roosevelt

Let’s test your IHSAA trivia.

In 1955 Indianapolis Crispus Attucks won the State Finals in boys basketball, the first time an Indianapolis team won the coveted trophy and a triumph for Attucks, which was built as a segregated black high school in the 1920s. The Attucks team’s 97 points still stands as the record high score for a state championship game.

Now for the trivia question: Which team lost that 1955 State Finals game?

Gary Roosevelt High School,
photo courtesy of Indiana Landmarks

The answer, also immortalized in Indiana basketball history, is Gary Roosevelt, another segregated high school.

Attucks came back to win the state title again in 1956 and 1959; Gary Roosevelt finally won it in 1968 and then again in 1991.

In 2005, Indiana Humanities helped to support a 50th anniversary commemoration of the championship game, sponsored by Indiana Landmarks’ African American Landmarks Committee. Players from the two rival teams, the Crispus Attucks Tigers and the Gary Roosevelt Panthers, reconvened at Hinkle Fieldhouse for a morning reception and “shoot around,” a luncheon and showing of the historic game telecast. I was privileged to attend the morning festivities, and it was a most wonderful time. To reach the downtown luncheon, the Tiger team rode on a fire truck around the Circle, a privilege that had been cut short in 1955.

But beyond the athletic tradition of these two rival schools stands another tradition even more impressive and lasting. Because of the outright discrimination that existed in the early twentieth century, many excellent African American teachers were unable to find college-level jobs, even though they were qualified. So they were recruited by the heads of the black high schools, such as Matthias Nolcox and Russell A. Lane of Attucks and H. Theo. Tatum of Roosevelt, who put together a distinguished faculty at each school. These teachers, in turn, challenged their students to live up to their potential in the classroom, as well as on the athletic fields and basketball courts.

Ms. Annie May of the National Roosevelt Alumni Association wrote to us with an example of this tradition:

“We are promoting a contest to see which graduating class will raise $1,000 first to become a lifetime member of the national alumni.

“In 1942 Mr. William Jarrett graduated Roosevelt High School, continued his education, was employed by the federal government as a mechanical engineer, developing two patents which he transferred to the government, and traveled all over the world.

“Mr. Jarrett was inducted into the United States Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame. Roosevelt graduates are known for meeting the challenge and making room for others to follow.

“I was not born when Mr. Jarrett graduated, but this $10.00 meant so much because Mrs. Jarrett was not a graduate of Roosevelt, but her husband left an impression with his wife about our tradition that has continued through the years, to make a contribution so others may benefit.”

Crispus Attucks High School,
photo courtesy of Indiana Division of
Historic Preservation & Archaeology

Crispus Attucks also continues its tradition of academic aspiration. On March 16, 2013, it will be the site of a College and Scholarship Fair, sponsored by Indiana Black Expo.

In February and March, Indiana Humanities is exploring the topic of “rivalry,” as part of its Spirit of Competition theme. This post was written by Nancy Conner, director of grants and coordinator of Novel Conversations and a member of the African American Landmarks Committee.

Posted In: Miscellaneous

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