Sixty years ago this month, a Morningside College basketball player was prohibited from playing in the national basketball tournament because he was black.
Today, we celebrate the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship in Sioux City as one of the community's top attractions. The same is probably said for the men's tourney in Point Lookout, Mo. The event brings visitors to our community. It celebrates the accomplishments of sharp student-athletes, the people who may direct our country's future.
What's not to like?
That wasn't the case on a night in March 1946 when the Morningside Maroons played Nevada University in the tournament to determine the champion of the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball, the organization we now know as the NAIA.
Rosamond Wilson, then a freshman for Morningside, was told he couldn't play due to a 1940 tournament committee ban that prevented African-Americans from participating.
Here's an account of the episode, according to "Morningside College: A Centennial History" by Timothy Orwig.
"Rosamond Wilson was the only freshman on the 1945-46 basketball squad, a 'quick breaking, fast moving forward,' according to the Sioux. The Maroons traveled to Kansas City to play in the prestigious National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball tournament in March.
"Although 32 teams played, 'Rosy' was the only black player, and because of a 1940 tournament committee ban, he was benched. On the night before his 19th birthday, he watched helplessly as Nevada U. beat Morningside and ended the Maroons' season."
Morningside's team finished with a 15-5 mark, the first season under Coach Al Buckingham.
"They told me Rosamond could not play and I was upset," says Buckingham, 93. "We raised enough heck so they would change it. But it was hard to share the news with him."
Buckingham also remembered dropping Wilson off at the YMCA that night as he wasn't allowed to stay in the team's hotel.
"Rosy was with our squad all season long," added former Maroon Chuck Obye, now of Sun City, Ariz. "Coach Buckingham felt he earned his way to that tournament, just as well as the rest of us. Rosy was a part of us."
Orwig's book concludes, "The incident caused many to question the ban, and NAIB President Al Duer wrote other officials, 'I am ashamed we hold an attitude of that kind in a national tournament.'
"After two threatened boycotts, the NAIB lifted the ban in 1948. An integrated team (Louisville) won that tournament."
What became of Rosy Wilson? The 1945 Central High graduate apparently left Sioux City and hasn't been back, at least not often. I tracked down a Rosamond Wilson in Fayetteville, N.C., but could not locate a phone number. I mailed a letter to Wilson and contacted news reporters there, but haven't heard anything.
Sioux Cityan John Wansink, 79, a member of the 1946 team, says, "Rosy and I would not get in the games unless they were runaways. I remember going to Kansas City for the national tournament. It was a big thrill. I remember that Rosy wasn't with us when we ate."
Wansink, sadly, never had contact with Wilson again.
Morningside's official game program described Wilson this way: "The only freshman on the squad, he obtained valuable experience and will see plenty of action next year."
He didn't. In fact, he's not pictured with the 1946-47 team. A run of his name through the college's database turns up zilch.
"I've asked Floyd Fulton (a long-time referee) about him. I spoke with Frankie Williams, a singer here in Sioux City, about Rosy," Wansink says. "Nobody seems to have a handle on where Rosy is. I should say it's kind of a mystery."
"I've not heard anything about him in 25 years," says Otis Hayes, 77, who grew up next door to Wilson at 14th and Center streets in Sioux City. "Rosy was a couple of years older than me, but I remember him being quiet, easy-going, kind of a smooth guy. I remember him tap dancing in grade school at Hopkins Elementary on the west side."
According to Hayes, Wilson's father, Ira, was a porter. He and Rosy's mother, Rose, would house other porters when they would overnight in Sioux City.
"During that time, porters on the train couldn't stay overnight in hotels in Sioux City," Hayes says. "So, they stayed at the Wilson house when they had to layover. Their home was like a bed-and-breakfast."
Rosy participated in civics club at Central High, but not basketball. Officials at The Castle on the Hill Association have mailed reunion invitations to him over the years. They've never received a reply.
An official with a local funeral home states that while Rosy was listed as a survivor when his mother died in 2001, he didn't make it back for the funeral. His father died in 1977.
"A lot of folks have wondered where Rosy was and what he was doing," Hayes says.
Including this writer. So, please contact me if you know anything about Rosamond Wilson, the quick Morningside guard whose basketball career here ended before it should have.