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University of Wisconsin African-American Athletic Timeline

1875 - William Noland is the first African-American to graduate from the University of Wisconsin.

1900 - Julian Ware (baseball 1900-03) and Adelbert Matthews (baseball 1900-02) are the first African-American varsity athletes at UW when they suit up for the baseball team in the spring of 1900.

1901 - George Poage (1901-04) becomes the first African-American on the UW varsity track and field team.

1902 - Julian Ware makes history as the first African-American to captain a team in the Big Ten conference when his teammates elect him to that honorary position for the 1902 baseball season.

1904 - In the course of three months in the summer of 1904, George Poage becomes, in turn, the first black athlete to win a Big Ten Track and Field championship, and, then, the first African-American to win an Olympic medal. Poage wins the 220-yard hurdles and the 440-yard dash at the Western Conference championships and follows that up with bronze medals in the 220-yard and 440-yard hurdles at the Third Olympic Games in St. Louis.

1923/24 - W. Cecil Bratton rows freshman crew, making him one of the first African-Americans to row any level of collegiate crew.

1929 - William Exum (1929, 1934) is the first African-American to make the UW varsity football team.

1934 - Lloyd Cooke (1934-36) is the first African-American on the UW cross country team.

1939 - UW withdraws from a proposed track meet at the University of Missouri, rather than agreeing to the color line and leaving star hurdler Ed Smith at home. Click here for the full story.

1940 - Ed Smith wins the Big Ten title in the 120-yard hurdles, becoming the second black Badger athlete to win a Big Ten individual title.

1944/45 - The 1944/45 school year is the last school year in which no African-Americans represented the University of Wisconsin on the athletic field.

1946/47 - Cal Vernon (1946/47-1947/48) is the first African-American on the UW boxing team.

1947 - Jamaican sprinter Lloyd LaBeach wins 17 of UW's 18 points at the NCAA Track meet.

1947/48 - Cal Vernon wins NCAA boxing championship in the light heavyweight division. He is one of the first African-Americans in the country to win a collegiate boxing title.

1948 - Cal Vernon and Robert Teague become the first African-Americans to play regularly on the Wisconsin varsity football team.

1950 - Ed Withers, a defensive halfback, is the first African-American Badger athlete, to be named a football All-American.

1952 - The 1952 squad is the last Wisconsin varsity football team without any African-American players.

1956 - Charlie Thomas (1956-1958), a shot-put specialist, is the first black Badger athlete to participate in the weight events for the Track and Field team.

1956 - Sidney Williams (1956-58) becomes the first African-American starting quarterback in modern Big Ten history.

1956 - Wisconsin cancels football games with Louisiana State University rather than abide by a Louisiana state law that outlaws integrated athletic contests. Click here for the full story.

1958/59 - Jim Biggs (1958/59-1960/61) and Ivan Jefferson (1958/59) are the first African-Americans on the UW basketball team

1958/59 - In response to an incident in Houston, the UW athletic department adopts a strict new policy that forbids its teams to accept Jim Crow lodging arrangements when on the road. Click here for the full story.

1958/59 - Charles L. McNeal is the first African-American on the UW wrestling team.

1960 - Infielder Frank Burks is the first African-American baseball player at UW since 1903.

1966 - Les Ritcherson (1966-69), an assistant with the UW football team is the first African-American coach at the University of Wisconsin.

1967/68 - Welford Sanders (1967/68-69/70) is the first African-American on the UW fencing team.

1975 - Pam McKinney (1975-76), is the first African-American head coach at the University of Wisconsin when she leads the women's tennis team for two seasons.

1976 - Bill Cofield was hired at Wisconsin becoming the first African American to coach basketball in the Big Ten Conference. That same summer, Edwina Qualls was hired by Wisconsin as the Big ten's first black head women's basketball coach. Cofield coached six years compiling a 61-103 record, but had the distinction of hiring Bo Ryan as an assistant introducing him to the Badger State. Qualls had a 131-141 career record upon her resignation after10 years in 1986.

Gregory Bond, Ph.D.
History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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