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Calvin Vernon, Jr
(1925, Manly, Iowa - ), Football 1947-48; Boxing 1947/8
Cal Vernon, who listed Jackie Robinson as one of his heroes, broke barriers of his own during his athletic career at the University of Wisconsin. Vernon was the first African-American to participate in boxing for UW, and he was one of the first African-Americans to win an NCAA boxing championship.
Vernon was born in Manly, Iowa and attended high school in nearby Mason City before moving to Milwaukee for his senior year. A star football player at both schools, his athletic career was interrupted by the draft in 1943. Vernon served in the Naval Air Force for nearly three years before returning to Wisconsin and enrolling at the UW. Photo of Cal Vernon, Source: UW Sports Information
The 5-8, 192-pounder played freshman football upon arriving in Madison but stumbled upon his best sport the following spring. Thanks to a chance encounter with the assistant UW boxing coach, Vernon, who had reportedly never seen a bout before coming to Madison, entered the annual UW all-University boxing competition in 1947. He found immediate success in the ring and made it to the finals of the intramural contest. Based on his success in the all-University competition, he made the varsity boxing team and fought in one inter-collegiate match for the Badgers that season.
The following year, under the tutelage of legendary coach John Walsh, Vernon turned in an undefeated season for the UW mittmen and advanced to the NCAA tournament in the light heavyweight division. In the semi-finals, the unbeaten Vernon survived a scare when he rallied to knock-out his opponent from the University of Virginia who was leading the match on points at the time. The following day, he helped bring home the Badgers' fourth consecutive team title when he won the NCAA championship in his division, becoming one of the first African-Americans to garner a collegiate boxing title.
In addition to his exploits in the squared circle, Vernon represented UW on the gridiron. He saw only limited action during his sophomore season but worked his way up into the regular fullback rotation in 1948. Vernon and halfback Bob Teague were among the first black athletes to earn regular playing time for the Badger varsity football team during their time on the squad in the late 1940s.
After the 1948 football season, Vernon forfeited his college eligibility and embarked on a short-lived professional boxing career.
Gregory Bond, Ph.D.
History, University of Wisconsin