UK to honor track star Green with in­vi­ta­tional this Satur­day

Lexington Herald-Leader - - Front Page - BY JARED PECK [email protected]­ald-leader.com

The Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky will honor a de­seg­re­ga­tion pi­o­neer who also hap­pens to be one of its all-time great track ath­letes this week­end with the re­nam­ing of its an­nual open­ing in­door meet as the “Jim Green In­vi­ta­tional.”

Green, a three-time NCAA cham­pion and the first black stu­dent-ath­lete to grad­u­ate from UK, ran for Ken­tucky from 1968 to 1971 and was among the first black stu­den­tath­letes in the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence dur­ing the dif­fi­cult times of a seg­re­gated South.

“It’s ex­cit­ing,” the 70-yearold Louisville res­i­dent said of the honor. “And the rea­son why it’s so ex­cit­ing to me right now is be­cause my fam­ily is go­ing to be there. This is one of the great­est things to have hap­pen to me, to have my fam­ily be there with me and

my friends and my team­mates and my coach.”

Green be­came a track sen­sa­tion as a high schooler de­spite be­ing a team of one for Em­i­nence High School and hav­ing to train on a rail­road track bed. Coach Press Whe­lan wooed Green away from UK foot­ball and bas­ket­ball and a hun­dred other schools want­ing him to run track, ac­cord­ing to ear­lier pub­lished re­ports.

“With­out Coach Whe­lan, none of this would be in fruition,” Green said. “He was the guy who came down to my home­town of Em­i­nence and re­cruited a lit­tle, skinny black guy to come to UK when every­body else was afraid to have black ath­letes.”

Ken­tucky’s new track coach, Lon­nie Greene, spoke to Green a num­ber of times over the months since he was hired, and one day he called the track leg­end with the idea for the honor.

“Mr. Green is one of the all-time great Wild­cats, and so we’re so proud to have this op­por­tu­nity to dis­tin­guish Mr. Green start­ing this year,” Greene said in a state­ment. “What a phe­nom­e­nal oc­ca­sion it will be to send our young ath­letes out to com­pete at a meet bear­ing such a pres­ti­gious name­sake. Mr. Green blazed a coura­geous path of op­por­tu­nity for so many who fol­lowed him, in­clud­ing our cur­rent team. We look for­ward to putting on a great event be­fit­ting such a brave hero of sport at our uni­ver­sity.”

A ham­string in­jury in the sum­mer of the 1968 Olympics kept Green from be­ing able to com­pete for the United States at the Mex­ico City Games, but he went on to earn All-Amer­ica honors six times and won eight South­east­ern Con­fer­ence in­di­vid­ual events, in­clud­ing the in­door 60-yard dash (1968, 1971), out­door 100-yard dash (1968, 1970, 1971), and out­door 220-yard dash (1968, 1970, 1971). At the NCAAs, he won the in­door 60-yard dash in 1968 and the 100-yard dash in both 1968 and 1971. Three of his times re­main in the top 10 in UK’s record books.

“It wasn’t easy,” Green said. “Whe­lan told me, ‘It’s not go­ing to be easy. You’re go­ing to go through some tri­als and tribu­la­tions. You’re go­ing to be called a lot of names. Peo­ple ain’t go­ing to like you. Peo­ple are go­ing to tell you to “go home, you don’t be­long here,”’ but we just had the will to win and we stayed there.”

Green was the first black ath­lete to be co­cap­tain on the UK track team and was a 2007 in­ductee into the Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky Ath­let­ics Hall of Fame, one of six hall of fames bear­ing his achieve­ments, in­clud­ing the Ken­tucky Ath­letic Hall of Fame and the Ma­sonDixon Games Hall of Fame.

“He was Ken­tucky track and field,” for­mer team­mate and later UK track coach Don We­ber said in a 2005 Her­aldLeader in­ter­view. “I came in after his fresh­man year, and he’d won the NCAA cham­pi­onship as a fresh­man, so he was on the map as soon as he got here, at a na­tional level. He gave us kind of cred­i­bil­ity while we were build­ing a pretty good track and field team.”

Asked ahead of his 2005 Ma­son-Dixon Games Hall of Fame in­duc­tion what drove him to be great, Green an­swered sim­ply.

“The will to win,” he said. “And the will not to lose.”

When UK hon­ored the school’s first black foot­ball play­ers with a statue out­side Kroger Field in 2016, dozens of peo­ple signed a let­ter to the ed­i­tor of the Her­aldLeader call­ing for sim­i­lar recog­ni­tion for Green, who was a con­tem­po­rary and class­mate of Nate Nor­thing­ton, Greg Page, Wil­bur Hack­ett and Hous­ton Hogg.

Green “is equally de­serv­ing of recog­ni­tion as an ath­lete whose courage and ex­cel­lence helped break UK’s and the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence’s color bar­rier,” wrote Margie Wil­son of Lex­ing­ton in a let­ter signed by 72 oth­ers. “As a trail­blazer, Green en­dured hos­tile ex­pe­ri­ences in com­pe­ti­tions across the Deep South, but as (ear­lier let­ter writer and one of Green’s UK team­mates Ray­mond) Sab­ba­tine stated, Green ‘stood tall, de­flected the in­sults, and col­lected the win­ning medals.’”

At the Ma­son-Dixon event in 2005, Green ex­plained why he chose UK.

There was the chance to run track, he said. “and at the same time, open up the doors for other kids that may have wanted to go to the Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky but al­ways said (it) was a big, white, racist in­sti­tu­tion. We kind of felt like, if we can make some head­way and gains and open doors for other folks, why not take that chal­lenge?”

Nine­teen small and large col­leges, in­clud­ing Ohio State, In­di­ana and Eastern Ken­tucky are sched­uled to com­pete in the Jim Green In­vi­ta­tional, which be­gins Fri­day at UK’s Nut­ter Field House.

Ken­tucky won nine events in its first meet un­der Lon­nie Greene at the Hoosier Open in De­cem­ber. UK’s MarieJosée Eb­wea-Bile Ex­cel earned na­tional track ath­lete of the week honors for her na­tional sea­son-best triple jump of 13.78 me­ters there.

UK Ath­let­ics

Jim Green was a three-time NCAA cham­pion and the first black stu­dent ath­lete to grad­u­ate from Ken­tucky, run­ning for the Cats from 1968 to 1971. Ken­tucky’s an­nual open­ing in­door meet has been named in his honor.

BILL HICKEY Her­ald-Leader file

Ken­tucky All-Amer­ica sprinter Jim Green is seen in 1971 with a few of the tro­phies he gar­nered in his ca­reer.

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