MEAC grew from (NCCU) roots in Durham, NC
Staff Photo by Chris Seward
Hampton's Monica Rogers, 30, and Coppin State's Rashida Suber, right, 22, battle for the ball during a 2006 MEAC Tournament gamed played in Raleigh on Wednesday.
By STANLEY B. CHAMBERS JR, Staff Writer
About 20 miles and 36 years later, the MEAC has almost returned to its roots.
Four teams will vie for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball championship today in Raleigh. But the conference made up of historically black colleges and universities was founded in Durham.
Representatives from about 30 schools met at N.C. College, now N.C. Central University, for a two-day meeting in 1969.They were invited by Leroy T. Walker, who wanted black schools to be recognized in their own right without being overshadowed by larger institutions. The conference was established the following year, with Walker as its first commissioner, and was headquartered in Durham until 1981.
Starting as a Division II conference, with its first season of competition in football in 1971, the MEAC hired its first full-time commissioner in 1978, expanded to nine schools the next year and became a Division I conference in 1980. Today, the MEAC comprises 11 schools stretching from Florida to Delaware and offering seven men's and eight women's sports.
LEROY T. WALKERAGE: 88
BORN: June 14, 1918, in Atlanta. Mostly grew up in Harlem, N.Y., but finished high school in Atlanta.
EDUCATION: Graduated magna **** laude from Benedict College in 1940 with a bachelor's in exercise physiology and biomechanics. Master's, Columbia University (1941); doctorate, New York University (1957).
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Durham
FAMILY: Son, daughter, three grandchildren.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Was an All-American football and all-conference basketball athlete for Benedict; coached 40 national champions, 111 All-Americans and 12 Olympians in track and field for NCCU; former NCCU chancellor; instrumental in bringing the Olympic Games to Atlanta as president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
CREDO: "Excellence without excuse, a shared responsibility." The Durham News spoke with Walker about how the MEAC was formed and its early history.
Q: What inspired the idea for the MEAC?
A: While obtaining degrees from Columbia and New York universities, Walker noticed how those schools would mainly play other institutions in the New York City region. And distance was the reason why some HBCUs didn't play one another. He also noticed a good number of black schools were on the East Coast, where they were within reach of interstate highways. Walker first mentioned the idea to a group of educators and coaches at an American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance conference in 1969.Q: How did the 1969 meeting in Durham happen?
A: "I knew [the coaches/teachers] well, not as much as by their coaching experiences, but I knew they were in [the American Alliance]. So we sent the invite out and said 'Hey, we're trying to form a unified group that have to play under the same rules and have responsibility to the university in terms of eligibility.' And let's talk about it and see."
Q: What was discussed at the meeting?
A: "It didn't take a great deal to say, 'Let's combine these conferences and see if we can get into Division I,' and it made sense. Plus we indicated that football and basketball is literally locked up by the ACC, the ****, the Big Ten. We gotta try to do something where we can get some recognition for the HBCUs and possibly some income for football and basketball. It wasn't a hard decision, the question was how many individuals we can get across the line."
Q: How was the conference's name derived?
A: "We noticed that the members who came to the meeting were along the Atlantic coastline. Most of those members, Howard University, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, N.C. A&T State University, NCCU, S.C. State, all of them, we didn't have a lot of money for travel. If you look at that group, they were aligned where you could move your team along on buses."
Q: What happened after the meeting?
A: Walker and those who supported his idea talked with NCAA officials about acquiring Division II and Division I status. He continued to sell his idea and in 1970, seven out of the 30 schools reconvened in Durham and agreed to join the newly formed Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: Delaware State College (now University), Howard University, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, N.C. A&T State University, N.C. Central University and S.C. State University.
Q: What were the MEAC's early days like?
A: "I don't take full credit; we got a lot of help from individuals that I knew. And we began to make an impact. I remember well, one of our teams made it through the first round of the Division II [basketball] championship. That was unheard of for a HBCU institution. Because we were beginning, I was fortunate that we were almost always at the high points. I talked with the coaches, presidents and officers of Division II and got excellent advice, so we had no violations at the time. We made our own league with the dedication and the feeling of people who wanted to follow our rules and regulations. We had success, even at the highest level, and they believed in the fact that this can work."
Q: What do you think of the MEAC today?
A: "The MEAC is still going through growing pains. We still have to work hard at getting our alumni. "
Walker said he is proud of the academic achievements of MEAC athletes but thought the conference tournament would be a great opportunity to have high school athletes and youth groups see collegiate competition up close.
"It's a great recruiting tool also. We have not captured that opportunity. I missed very few of these championships and I'm telling you, I think it's a great opportunity."