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Sun, 02.02.1879

Charles Follis, Football Player born

Charles Follis

*Charles Follis was born on this date in 1879.  He was a Black professional American football player.  Charles W. Follis was born in Cloverdale, Virginia, to James Henry and Catherine Matilda Anderson Follis. James Henry was a farm laborer. Follis was the third born of seven children. The older siblings were Lelia M. and Cora Belle. Sister Laura Alice and brother Curtis W.  In 1885, the family moved to Wooster, Ohio, where Walter Joseph and Lucy Jane were born.  

In 1901, Follis entered Wooster College. However, he chose to play football for the amateur Wooster Athletic Association rather than the college squad. As a member of the Wooster Athletic Association, he would earn the nickname "The Black Cyclone." At the end of the 1901 season, Wooster played the Shelby Blues in a two-game series. Follis' performance brought him to the attention of the Shelby team manager, Frank C. Schiffer, who secured Follis for his team and set him up with a job at a local hardware store. Charles' working hours were arranged so that he could both practice and play football.  During the 1902 and 1903 seasons, Follis played for Shelby.  On September 16, 1904, Follis signed a contract with Shelby making him the first Black man contracted to play American professional football on an integrated team.  

In 1904, he helped lead the Blues to an 8–1–1 record.  In 1906, the Blues became an entirely open professional team. Charles missed the early part of the season due to an injury. However, he did return in the second half of the season. Finally, on Thanksgiving Day 1906, while playing against the Franklin Athletic Club of Cleveland, he suffered another injury, though this one ended his career.  Follis was also the first Black catcher to move from college baseball into the Negro Leagues.

During the 1901 and 1902 seasons, Follis became well-known in the Ohio college circuit while playing for Wooster University. His closest competitor at the position was Branch Rickey of nearby Ohio Wesleyan University.  He played for the Shelby Blues of the "Ohio League" from 1902 to 1906. In 1902, he left Wooster University, and by 1909, he was catching for the Cuban Giants. He became the Giants' star catcher, leading slugger, and most popular player.

Charles Follis died on April 5, 1910. While the local press reported Follis’ professionalism, sports historians did not know his role as the first Black professional football player until many years later. In 1975, researchers rediscovered halfback Follis’ on-the-field achievements while reviewing old pages of the Shelby Daily Globe to locate evidence that Follis had played as a professional.  In 1998, the football field/outdoor track facility at Wooster High School, Follis Field, was dedicated in his honor.  In August 2013, a play named "The Black Cyclone" was put on at the Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas, Ohio. The script was written by an area playwright, Jim Stoner. The story relives Follis' life, football career, and family.  In 2013, Follis was inducted into the College of Wooster Hall of Fame.  

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