Jack Trice, ISU football legend


Jack Trice
Date: 
Fri, 1902-01-17

*The birth of Jack Trice in 1902 is celebrated on this date. He was an African American football Student/Athlete.

Born in Hiram, Ohio he was the son of, Green Trice a buffalo soldier who escaped the South and started the first grade at the age of 26. In 1918, Trice’s mother sent him to Cleveland, Ohio to live with his uncle. In Cleveland as a teenager, Jack Trice attended East Technical High School where he started his football career and forged a friendship with his coach, Sam Williaman. That association led Trice's former coach to summon him to Iowa State University (ISU) along with six other teammates after Willaman was hired as the Cyclones' coach.  In order to pay for some of his school expenses, Trice worked on a construction crew before leaving for college. On one of those hot, sticky days on the road crew, he met and began dating Cora Mae Starland, but had to leave for college.

In 1922, after his freshman year at ISU, he returned to Ohio to marry Starland. Trice was 20. Starland was 15.  There were only about 20 black students on the ISU campus. Unable to secure any housing, they turned to the local Masonic group, which arranged for them to board in a room at their local temple.  Trice majored in animal husbandry with hopes of someday teaching modern farming to Southern black farmers. His wife was studying home economics. The ISU of Trice's era was one of the more welcoming universities for Blacks. George Washington Carver had served as a faculty member before moving to Tuskegee Institute.

Trice first found athletic success at ISU in track. As a freshman, he won the Missouri Valley Conference's meet in the shot put and discus. Even bigger things were expected out of the 215-pound tackle because as a freshman, his team beat the ISU Varsity.   His sophomore season began as a varsity football member of the Cyclones. Trice excelled in the classroom as well. Trice had a 90 average and had already passed 45 hours after only one year of college.

Trice's place on the ISU football team wasn't universally approved. Some opposing teams refused to play the Cyclones because he was Black. And on his only road trip for the Minnesota game, Trice stayed apart from his teammates in a different hotel (the Curtis Hotel) in Minneapolis because officials at the team hotel refused to allow him to eat in the dining room with the rest of his team. While there on the night before the game, Trice wrote a letter to himself. It was found in his jacket pocket, shortly before his funeral. "My thoughts just before the first real college game of my life: The honor of my race, family and self-are at stake, "Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will! "My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about on the field tomorrow. Every time the ball is snapped, I will be trying to do more than my part. … Be on your toes every minute if you expect to make good. Jack."

Trice complained of a sore shoulder from an injury he sustained on the second play, but remained in the game. Just before the end of the third quarter, he made a headlong dive attempting to stop a blocking wedge on an off-tackle smash. He landed on his back and was then trampled by several Minnesota players. Doctors determined after the game that Trice had sustained a broken collarbone early in the game, but was healthy enough to return home with his teammates. He was placed in a Pullman coach, resting on a straw mattress.  But soon after the Cyclones departed, Trice started having trouble breathing. When he was treated back in Ames the next day, his condition had worsened. A doctor summoned from Des Moines determined that surgery was too risky. Trice died the next day of hemorrhaged lungs and internal bleeding throughout his abdomen. Iowa State canceled classes two days later for a memorial service. More than 4,000 students and faculty members turned out for the ceremony. Trice's casket was draped in cardinal and gold -- the school's colors -- before he was buried. Cora left for Ohio soon afterward. She remarried several years later and never returned to Ames.

ISU teammate Johnny Behm told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a 1979 interview, "The fullback, going through the hole, stepped on Jack's stomach and maybe his groin." "He was badly hurt, but tried to get up and wanted to stay in. We saw he couldn't stand and helped him off the field." Others have always alleged that Trice was targeted because of his skin color. "We don't know if it was an accident, or if it was because he was his team's best player or if he was hurt because he was an African American," said Jones, who wrote the book "Football's Fallen Hero: The Jack Trice Story" in 2000. "That's kind of the mystique about him. "Everybody who was on the field on that day is gone today and whether it's intentional or not, I don't know. I guess it's really one’s perspective. I've talked to two people who had seen the play. One person told me that nothing out of the ordinary happened. But another who saw it said it was murder." According to newspaper accounts, the Minnesota crowd chanted, "We're sorry Ames, we're sorry," when Trice failed to re-enter the contest, which Minnesota won 20-17.

The story faded over the years and was forgotten until ISU student Tom Emmerson was looking through the school's old gymnasium in 1957. While there, Emmerson discovered a faded, grimy plaque tucked behind the spiral staircase at the facility. Emmerson, who eventually became chairman of ISU's journalism department went to the library and wrote a piece about him. That story helped spark renewed interest in Trice.

In 1974, ISU's student body government voted unanimously to recommend that the school name the new football stadium after him. Several years later, students raised money to erect the statue of him outside the stadium. School officials originally named the facility "Cyclone Stadium." But due to the persistence of ISU students, staff and other supporters, the facility was named Jack Trice Stadium in 1997. It is the only Division I-A football stadium named for an African-American.  Jack Trice's figure can be found outside the stadium that bears his name, Trice, who died from injuries on Oct. 8, 1923, two days after he was trampled in a football game against Minnesota.

Reference:
African American Registry
Black Box interview

Person / name: 

Trice, Jack

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