Nor­folk na­tive, one of about 100 of the leagues’ play­ers still alive, shares mem­o­ries

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Larry Rubama Staff writer

With its kick­off game ap­proach­ing, Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar sport must rec­og­nize the chal­lenges off the field could be more daunt­ing than those on it.

As a young boy grow­ing up in Nor­folk, Sam Allen was in­tro­duced to base­ball at an early age by his grand­fa­ther.

He used to take Allen to see the Nor­folk Stars play when­ever they were in town.

“That was be­fore in­te­gra­tion,” Allen said. “The old-timers would meet there. That was their club­house. … What my grand­mother did was smart, she’d make him carry me. So, af­ter the game, he got to come home be­cause he had to bring me. That’s when I fell in love with the game.”

Allen, along with his friends — in­clud­ing for­mer Ne­gro Leagues player Wal­ter Lundy — would get together when­ever they could to work on their skills.

Though he stood 5-foot-7, the left-handed out­fielder car­ried a pow­er­ful bat.

“We used to play with a ten­nis ball and play with a broom­stick,” said Allen, who also starred in foot­ball for Booker T. Wash­ing­ton High, once scor­ing six touch­downs in a game. “That’s how you got that bat speed. … I en­joyed base­ball. Dur­ing that time, you didn’t have any air con­di­tion … so we stayed out­doors all day. We’d play from morn­ing un­til night. You didn’t have that tele­vi­sion like you have now or the lux­ury of the phones and all that. Base­ball was re­ally the only thing that we had.”

Allen was good enough to play in the Ne­gro Leagues,

Ne ever has the NFL doubted it would open its ssea­son on time. For months, it has stea ad­fastly stuck to its plans, even as the cor ron­avirus pan­demic has al­tered the co ourse of ev­ery other sport — on all lev­els.

With its kick­off game of Su­per Bowl cham­pion c Kansas City host­ing Hous­ton rapidly ap­proach­ing, pos­si­bly with fans in the stands, Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar sport must rec­og­nize the chal­lenges off the field could be more daunt­ing than those on it. Par­tic­u­larly af­ter 77 false pos­i­tive COVID-19 tests last week­end.

“We’re go­ing to have to be flex­i­ble and adapt­able,” says Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer and, in 2020, for good rea­son, its most vis­i­ble ex­ec­u­tive. “I think that’s some­thing we’ll con­tinue to track and mon­i­tor. If this taught us any­thing, pro­ject­ing three, four weeks down the road is a haz­ardous busi­ness.”

Many would say play­ing a col­li­sion sport not only is haz­ardous, but fool­hardy. The NFL did


Nor­folk’s Sam Allen, 84, dons a jersey and cap of the Kansas City Monar­chs, one of the three Ne­gro Leagues teams he played for in the 1950s.

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