Jackson State University made history this spring by becoming the first historically Black institution to have its golf team invited to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I golf tournament. Division 110 the NCAA’s top competitive division.
Jackson State’s inclusion i s as ironic to some as it is historic. A year ago, golf coach Eddie Payton tried discrimination when his team was not selected for the tournament — despite the fact that the majority of his team is white. In fact, only one member of the current Jackson State team is Black.
Critics charge that fielding majority white sports teams at historically Black colleges undermines their mission. Supporters counter that the situation is no different from white institutions that field mostly Black basketball or football teams.
Economics appears to be at the root of the situation. With most Black colleges lacking the financial resources to recruit extensively, particularly to pursue the small pool of Black golfers who can be competitive at the Division I level, many must turn to white golfers to be competitive. And, because whites are in the minority at Black colleges, those institutions are often in a better position to offer more lucrative financial aid to whites.
It is a Catch-22 situation, according to Bill Dickey, president of the National Minority junior Golf Scholarship Association, which helps to provide financial assistance to young minority golfers. Dickey said he has mixed emotions about Jackson State becoming the first historically Black institution to appear in the Division I tournament. “To be the first historically Black school is a plus,” he said. “But the negative may be that a majority of the players are white. But I know Eddie Payton and of course, he wants to have the best program possible. He is trying to recruit and get the best players.”
The best Black players often have more options, by virtue of being recruited by the best collegiate golf programs in the country. Jackson State pursues such players but, as Dickey puts it, “The supply is limited as to those guys who can compete at the top of the Division I level.”
The top-level white schools also tend to have better equipment, uniforms, facilities and transportation, making them more attractive to the country’s best young golfers, Black and white. So, with Black schools geographically limited in their recruiting, it is the white golfer who frequently gets the nod.
Raymond A. McDougal, golf coach at Fayetteville State University, a Division II school, fields a predominantly white team, but makes no apologies. “I believe you should call the white schools that have predominantly Black basketball and football teams and see what they say. it is not who plays; it is the school that counts.”
Fayetteville State, like most Black schools, doesn’t have money to recruit players, “So most of our players are local players. We serve the community here. That is what a school is supposed to do regardless of what race the people are.”
That is the true mission of a historically Black institution, said James Frank, commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, a group of historically Black schools to which Jackson State belongs. Jackson State is the only school in the conference with a majority white golf team.
As for Jackson State being ignored by the NCAA in previous years, Frank said, “There were charges of discrimination, not against an all-white team, but discrimination against a historically Black school. Frankly, I have not heard any criticism or any problem about Jackson State fielding a predominantly white team. There might be a remark here and there, but it was sort of tongue-in-cheek.
“What people have to remember is that Jackson State is a state school, open to everybody that applies and is qualified. These athletes represent Jackson State. Jackson State will be there long after Eddie Payton and this group of golfers is long gone. Jackson State is the first historically Black institution to go to the tournament and will always have that distinction. Sure, you look at opportunities to provide for Black athletes and Black students at HBCUs, but it can’t be that cut and dry.
On one hand, we know why we were founded, but we can’t deny people opportunity.” Coach Eddie Payton could not be reached for comment. Herschel V. Caldwell, publisher of Minority Golf Magazine, said Black schools need to make a choice and not waiver.
`You Have to Make a Choice’
“You have to be dedicated to bringing along minority youngsters or not and either way is fine, but you can’t have it both ways.” He chastises Jackson State for fielding a white golf team yet seeking money allocated to historically Black colleges to support the team.
“There are people who will argue that predominantly white schools field Black football and basketball teams and that is fine,” Caldwell said. “But they don’t go to minority college funds for funding for basketball and football.”
Caldwell added that the reality is that there is a greater percentage of talented white golfers than Black golfers and any team seeking to compete at the highest levels will undoubtedly reach out to white golfers.
“You can’t get a school recognized unless you go to the NCAA tournament, but there are realities to face,” he said. “One is that the pool of players is larger among those who are white, than those who are not white. Therefore it follows that if the goal is to field the best team, then you logically go with the larger pool of skill players.
“But if you have a mission to develop parity, to bring along minority golfers, however long it might take, then you seek out and develop those skills in those who are not white.” Development is key, because everybody agrees that the shortage of talented Black golfers is a major factor in who plays on Black college golf — teams.
It was not many years ago that Black colleges didn’t have golf teams. The move came after the NCAA pushed colleges to provide broader athletics programs, giving money to institutions based on number of sports and scholarships offered. The more sports and scholarships, the more money. College golf teams generally consist of five to seven players, and are less expensive than some other sports. For instance, a team doesn’t need to own its own golf course as long as it can use one.
So, while Black college golf is in its infancy, “It is a beginning, it is a start,” Frank said. “We are not doing too well now, mostly because of what is a scarcity of Black golfers, both men and women. But we want to see our schools do everything possible to recruit Black golfers and see they have a chance to succeed.”
That means that young Blacks must be introduced to the game of golf earlier, said Dickey. “This is a long-term problem; it just didn’t happen,” he said. “Obviously, there has been some growth as the Black community become more affluent. But if there are no programs, then young Black don’t take the game up. If they don’t take the game up, they don’t have the benefit of learning and progressing.”
Years ago, there was a similar dilemma with tennis in the Black community. People like tennis great Arthur Ashe Jr. addressed the situation by developing junior tennis programs in the inner city and other communities with large Black populations. And, while Black participation is still low, substantial inroads have been made.
Get Parents Interested
Similar programs must be developed for younger Black golfers so they can get similar exposure to golf. That may start with getting their parents interested, since children tend to follow the example parents set. McDougal said there is an effort in the Fayetteville area to get young Blacks interested in golf. A group of about 100 black golfers is conducting clinics in the area, he said, with the assistance of the Fayetteville State team.p “We hope to provide an avenue that won’t cost them anything, because most don’t have the money. But if we can get them interested, later on down the line, maybe they can get scholarships.”
But Blacks need to look even beyond playing golf, Caldwell said. “We have to look at the overall benefit of golf as an industry,” he said. “It is a billion dollar industry that offers careers in fields we are not pursuing, not saturated, not tapped. “There is architecture, horticulture, design and maintenance, apparel manufacturing. The list goes on and on. We are tragically, pitifully not entrenched in all of those fields in golf.”
He said that Black parents need to understand that their children playing golf are not wasting a Saturday afternoon, that it just might lead to a college scholarship. “We’ve got an orientation job to do because it is a non-traditional field,” he said. “We’ve got to make parents more aware of golf as an industry and it can be an alternative out of a lower economic situation. It is a viable alternative to football and basketball and baseball.”
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