After waiting half a century, Grambling State University’s 1961 men’s basketball team received championship-quality rings for being crowned National Athletic Intercollegiate Association champions.
On Saturday afternoon, just before the G-Men took the field to battle Virginia University of Lynchburg at its homecoming football game, eight of the 13-member team, who held an overall record of 32-4, were honored and presented with their rings.
“I think it’s a great honor,” said Willis Reed, who was a freshman on the 1961 team. “It’s a great group of guys”». It’s great to honor us at this point.”
Tommy Lee Bowens, Reed’s backup who provided energy with monstrous dunks, described the experiences Saturday and Friday night as “the highlight of his life.”
Grambling State has financial challenges these days as state funding has declined and as more state higher education requirements have been instituted. In the early 1960s, however, the school couldn’t afford to honor this special team with rings after it won the championship at Municipal Coliseum in Kansas City. Grambling State beat Georgetown College of Kentucky to win the NAIA championship, 95-75.
A young Frank G. Pogue was a campus student leader and civil rights activist at what was then Alabama State College (now Alabama State University) the year Grambling won the championship. Now Grambling State University’s president, Pogue said Grambling’s historic milestone “sent shock waves throughout the HBCU world.”
When Pogue became president, he learned that Grambling’s only men’s championship basketball team did not have championship rings. He immediately wanted to figure out a way to make Grambling’s national champions feel like champions.
“When I heard that this team had not been recognized receiving their rings, that was a tragedy,” Pogue said during a Friday night reception honoring the team at the Fred Hobdy Assembly Center. “They had been promised their rings over and over by people here at Grambling. We committed ourselves to making it happen, so we found the money to make it happen.” The president said the university identified money in different budgets, redirecting funds “from here to there” to purchase the rings. He emphasized that these players were student-athletes who focused on their academics while being successful on the court. President R.W.E Jones was also honored as he was represented by Wilbert Ellis. Coach Fred. C Hobdy and the Hobdy Family was represented Dr. Nanthalia McJamerson. Albert Johnson, who played center, was represented by Mrs. Albert Johnson and Robert Piper, the teams statistician, was represented by Arthur Hamlin.
Members present were Reed, Rex Tippitt, Bobby Ricks Roosevelt Rankin, Tommy Lee Bowens and Herschel West.