Friday, March 2, 2012

Cheerleader has fond recollections of ‘Bama players

        Debbie (Bailey) Bowen has vivid memories of the devastation she felt after learning that the Marshall football team’s plane had crashed, killing all seventy-five passengers on board. As the Thundering Herd’s first black cheerleader, Bowen developed a special kinship with three football players from Tuscaloosa, Alabama—Freddy Wilson, Robert VanHorn and Joe Hood. She was the baby sister;  they were the protective big brothers.
       In the memoir November Ever After, she reveals how supportive they were in her quest to earn a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad. Not everybody associated with the school was eager to see Debbie make the team.
       After several discussions between leaders of the Black United Students and Marshall administrators, it was decided that blacks would be allowed to train with the varsity cheerleaders which would give them a fair chance at making the team. It’s been said that the Alabama guys made it clear that they would refuse to play if Debbie was not chosen for the team. Here’s a short excerpt from the book in which Debbie explains why she will always feel a strong sense of gratitude for the unflinching support they provided.

       “They were willing to put their scholarships on the line for the principle of the thing. That’s one of the reasons why they are so important to me. The older I get, the more I realize how willing they were to take a risk and make a difference.”

       Wilson made sure that the school’s first black cheerleader wouldn’t have to walk home at night to the off-campus apartment that she and her father lived in.  He took it upon himself to drive Debbie home every night after practice and after he had eaten dinner in the school cafeteria.

       “Even when it rained, he was right there,” Debbie remembered.

       Freddy Wilson had a way of making strong impressions with everyone he encountered. John E. Gordon Sr., one of Wilson’s child-hood buddies from Tuscaloosa, recently wrote an article for the TuscaloosaNews.Com website about his memories of Wilson
Read  Gordon's "My Turn" column here The article is a reflective recollection of some of the times he and Wilson spent together as youngsters.

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