Area sports icons to get accolades

The legacy of north Louisiana journalism and sports icon Collie J. Nicholson will continue through an endowed scholarship and elevation to a national hall of fame later this month.On Feb. 19, the late sports information director who almost single-handedly brought Grambling State and its winning football team to international attention will be named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Representing him there will be his widow, Ophelia Nicholson, and their daughter, Shirley Rhodes, who also are the driving forces behind the new endowed Collie J. Nicholson scholarship at the historically Black northeast Louisiana college.

Collie Nicholson, known through the sports world was “Collie J,” was a major force in Grambling sports from 1946 to 1977, retiring after decades as its SID. The Winnfield native died Sept. 13, 2006, at age 85.

“I’m excited about that, especially with the list (of people) that’s going in” to the hall, Ophelia Nicholson said. She’s particularly excited about getting back in touch with one fellow honoree, former Green Bay Willie Davis.

“Collie J and I went to the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles when Willie Davis was playing,” she recalled, bring forth one example of how her late husband promoted his school. “Collie got the Super Bowl to bring Grambling’s band to play at halftime. All he wanted to do was get Grambling’s name out there, so people would know Grambling.”

Nicholson served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a combat correspondent in the central Pacific Theater in World War II, returning in 1946 to work for Grambling, which he promoted for 31 years. After retiring from GSU, he teamed with former state Rep. Alphonse Jackson to form the advertising firm, Jackson/Nicholson and Associates, and later worked as publicist for the Southwestern Athletic Conference and promoter Don King.

“We went all the way to Tokyo, Japan and played the first college football game there,” Ophelia Nicholson recalled. “We stayed there almost two weeks trying to negotiate, but Collie came back with the contract.”

During his career, Nicholson made the world aware of not only Willie Davis, but such sports luminaries as “Buck” Buchanan, Ernie Ladd, Gary “Big Hands” Johnson, Sammy White, James Harris, Doug Williams, Paul “Tank” Younger and Willis Reed.

His latest honor joins a handful of others, any one of which would crown a career: He received the Black College Sports Information Directors of CoSIDA America Trailblazer Award, and was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 2002, The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and the GSU Hall of Fame. In 2006, the GSU Robinson Stadium Press Box was renamed the Collie J. Nicholson Press Box in his honor.

He also is the subject of a 2007 biography, Michael Hurd’s ‘Collie J’ Grambling’s Man with the Golden Pen.

In 2010, Ophelia Nicholson donated her late husband’s papers to the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University.

Amistad owns the nation’s largest collection of original source material on black history, race relations, and the Civil Rights Movement.