The Dick Leftridge Story: A Forgotten or Simply Ignored Pioneer
Quick, raise your hand, how many of you have heard of Dick Leftridge before today? I must confess that I never heard of Mr. Leftridge until recently, when his son Jack Richard Leftridge Jr. contacted me. The younger namesake is on a quest to have his father’s name and accomplishments remembered and duly recognized in the history books. The timing of this move could not have come at a better time than the highly anticipated release of Disney’s “The Express” movie set to hit theaters. The Express is based on the life of the late great Ernie Davis of Syracuse, who was the first African-American soccer player to win the Heisman (1961).
Like Mr. Davis, all accounts point to the fact that Dick Leftridge was a pioneer in his own right, based on my research and a synopsis received from his son, Dick Leftridge was the first African-American to receive a soccer scholarship to play a major game. in the South, after he signed with West Virginia University in 1962, which at the time was playing in the Southern conference, under the Mason Dixon line. The recruitment and signing of Dick Leftridge accompanied by the subsequent signing of another black player, Roger Alford, was a change in university culture. According to Richard Leftridge Jr., WVU was not his father’s first choice despite being a local product (Hinton, WV), he wanted to attend Ohio State to play for the legendary Woody Hayes; however, the older Leftridge gave in to pressure from the promoters on local politicians, all of whom wanted him to stay home and play at WVU. According to the document, even the local chapter of the NAACP encouraged Leftridge to attend the local university and be the one who broke the color barrier at WVU. Dick Leftridge played for WVU from 1963-1965 during that time, put up some impressive stats, was the top field winner and scorer in each of his three years at WVU, in 1965 he was named Amateur Athlete of the Year by the West Virginia writer. Sports. 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 was also the first African-Americans to vote. to the second teams of the entire southern conference.
Some of you older Pittsburgh Steelers fans will remember Dick Leftridge as the team’s first-round pick in 1966; He was chosen third overall that year, he was also a fourth-round pick for the AFL Miami Dolphins that same year. Unfortunately, Dick Leftridge only played an unspectacular season for the Steelers and was labeled a failure by many fans and media personnel. This is where the story gets interesting; Are there multiple accounts of why such a promising athlete lasted only one season in the NFL? Depending on the version you think some say that Dick Leftridge simply did not have the desire and discipline to do so, there are stories that say he simply “ate” his way out of the league by gaining too much weight to be effective as a running back. elite, according to an article about Mr. Leftridge written in the Hinton Daily News (7/19/66), the Steelers had a weight clause in their contract, the fine print saying that each more than 230 pounds that bringing them to camp would carry a $ 50 fine, however, in an interview with a Charleston Daily News reporter (9/26/85), Mr. Leftridge gave a different version of events, quoted as saying that the ” Steelers put in the papers that I weighed 300 pounds when I reported. Everybody believed that and still do. I admit I was lazy sometimes, but I wasn’t fat. I weighed 242 pounds when I reported; hell, all I know is how to play golf. football. That’s all I’ve done. I was just a poor boy from Hinton (WV). How could people think that they would throw away a ch ance to make a million dollars? I would never turn my back on that. “
Controversy seemed to follow WVU’s Leftridge throughout his short professional career, he was fired from the school in the middle of his senior year semester, a few days after he played his last college game and his eligibility ran out, in 1976 he would return. to school. to complete your degree. Young Leftridge is also quick to point out that his father was not a saint; he struggled with his own demons once his football career was finally over. He shared details of his father’s checkered past, including the time he spent in Detroit working in the auto industry and making questionable decisions to get involved in the drug game as a dealer both in Detroit and upon his return to his hometown, as a result of Being On the wrong side of the law, Mr. Leftridge was sentenced to five years in federal prison (1987). According to his son, while Major Leftridge was in prison, there was a series of alleged verbal, mental and physical harassment of the family on the streets and at workplaces.
He also shared stories of his frustration in getting his father’s story told and published. “I have contacted a lot of people, especially African American celebrities that I see and hear in the media and received little or no interest, I’m not sure if the story is too controversial or what? You have also faced a An uphill battle in getting WVU to properly recognize his father’s accomplishments and historical significance to the Highlanders. According to Richard JR, the school did not really recognize his accomplishments until his death and even then the school just published a short blurb, until To this day he still has not been inducted into his Hall of Fame. Critics will now argue that being inducted should not be based on race as a selection criterion, and should be judged strictly on athletic achievement, on the other hand, fans may point out his stats and some of his awards (mentioned above) and in this case his being the first African-American player at WVU, during a time of unrest The tumultuous (Civil Rights Era) in the history of this country should be noted. In addition to his performance on the field, he was and remains the highest pick in NFL history in the school draft. Does Dick Leftridge deserve to be inducted into the WVU Hall of Fame? I let you decide. IMHO, I believe that Dick Leftridge’s story is a story of intrigue, mystique, and historical significance and one that needs further exploration, if any of you would like to help young Leftridge on his journey to further his father’s story ( he can be reached in [email protected]), he would be very kind, he does not seek fame and fortune in this story, just an opportunity to share the legacy of a forgotten Pioneer.