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The Story of Dick Leftridge – A Forgotten Pioneer Or Simply Ignored
Quick by hand how many of you have heard of Dick Leftridge before today? I have to confess that I have never heard of Mr. Leftridge until recently, when I was contacted by his son Jack Richard Leftridge Jr. The younger’s name is in search of his father’s name and achievements being remembered and well recognized in the history books. The timing of this move could not come at a better time than the highly anticipated release of the Disney movie “The Express” due to open in theaters. The Express is based on the life of the late Syracuse great Ernie Davis who was the first African-American football player to win the Heisman (1961).
Like Mr. Davis all the money pointed to the fact that Dick Leftridge was a pioneer in his own right, according to my research and information obtained from his son, Dick Leftridge was the first African-American received a scholarship to play football for a boy. a large school in the south, after he signed with West Virginia University in 1962, which at the time played in the southern conference, below the Mason Dixon line. The recruitment and signing of Dick Leftridge along with the subsequent signing of another black player Roger Alford represented a change in the school culture. According to Richard Leftridge Jr., WVU was not his father’s first choice even though he was a local product (Hinton, WV), he wanted to attend Ohio State to play for the legend Woody Hayes; However the elder Leftridge bowed to what he received from the support of local politicians who all wanted him to stay home and play at WVU. According to reports even the local chapter of the NAACP encouraged Leftridge to attend the local school and was the one who broke the color barrier at WVU. Dick Leftridge played for WVU from 1963-1965 during which time he put up some impressive results as he was the leading ground and scoring leader in all three years at WVU, in 1965 he was named the Amateur Athlete of the year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association. Dick Leftridge was the first African-American to play for the South team in the North-South Shrine game in 1965, he was also the first African-American named to the University of Pittsburgh All-Opponent team, and Dick Leftridge is also the first one. African-Americans voted second overall in the Southern Conference.
A few of you old Pittsburgh Steelers fans may remember Dick Leftridge as the team’s first overall pick in 1966 he was selected third overall that year, he was also a fourth overall pick of the AFL’s Miami Dolphins that same year year. Unfortunately, Dick Leftridge only played one bad season for the Steelers and many fans and media personnel wrote his bust. This is where the story gets interesting; There are multiple accounts of why an athlete with so much promise only got one season in the NFL? Depending on which model you believe, some say that Dick Leftridge, just doesn’t have the will and discipline to do it, there are stories that he just “eats” his way out of the league. of too heavy to work well. a prominent running back, according to an article of Mr. Leftridge wrote in the Hinton Daily News (7/19/66), the Steelers had a weight clause put in his contract, the lubricant that every pound over 230 he brought to camp will carry a $50 fine, however in an interview with a reporter from the Charleston Daily News (9/26/85) Mr. Leftridge gave another account of the events, he said ” Steelers put it on record. I weighed 300 pounds when I announced, everyone believed that and they still do. I admit sometimes I’m lazy, but I’m not fat, I weighed 242 pounds when I declare; Hell all I know is how to play football. I’ve already done it, I’m just a poor boy from Hinton (WV). ance can make a million dollars? I won’t turn back on that.”
Controversy seemed to follow Leftridge from WVU through his short career where he was dismissed from the school in the middle of the semester of his senior year a few days after he played his the last game and his eligibility was done, in 1976 he would go back to school. to complete his degree. The younger Leftridge was also quick to point out that his father was no saint; He struggled with his demons at the end of his football career. He shared details of his father’s past check-ups including time spent in Detroit working in the auto industry, and an unlikely decision to join the film industry. film as a salesman in Detroit and when he returned to his city, because he was on the wrong side of the law, Mr. Leftridge was sentenced to five years in federal prison (1987). According to his son, while the elder Leftridge was in prison, there were many allegations of verbal, emotional and physical abuse of the family on the street and in the workplace.
He also shared stories of his frustration at getting his father’s story told and published. “I contacted a lot of people, especially African-American actors that I saw and heard in the media and got a little interest, I’m not sure what the story is was there a conflict or what? He also faced a fight. According to Richard JR. the school never recognized his achievements until his death and even the school only published briefly, until today it still exists. Now critics will argue that the practice should not be based on race as a criteria for selection, and you should be judged directly on sports, among supporters can point to his stats and some of his awards (mentioned earlier) and this he is the first African-American player at WVU, during the civil rights era in the country s this history, must be taken into consi. deration with his performance, he was and still is the school’s highest NFL draft pick. Does Dick Leftridge deserve to be enshrined in the WVU Hall of Fame? I will let you decide. In my humble opinion I think the story of Dick Leftridge is one of intrigue, mystique and historical importance and one that needs further investigation, if any of you want to help the younger Leftridge on his journey to support his father’s story (he can. reach at email@example.com), he will be very happy, he does not seek fame and fortune from this story , the only opportunity to share the history of the forgotten Pioneer.
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