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October 21, 1999

In Memory of John McLendon

CLEVELAND - Intercollegiate athletics lost one of its true pioneers with the passing of John McLendon on October 8.

McLendon, 84, was the first Black coach hired by a predominately White institution when he was selected at Cleveland State University in 1966. CSU President Dr. Harold Enarson, its Board of Trustees and Ohio Governor James Rhodes were seeking to end the practice of coaching exclusion. McLendon left his coaching post at CSU in 1969, but would later return to the university in 1991 as an athletics department advisor.

He was the person responsible for the integration of college basketball. Throughout the years, he was the head basketball coach at North Carolina Central College (1940-52), Hampton Institute (1952-54), Tennessee State University (1954-59), Kentucky State University (1963-66) and Cleveland State University (1966-69). A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon learned basketball from the game's inventor, Dr. James Naismith. He had been the game's last living link to Naismith.

His success in the college ranks led him to the professional arena. Cleveland businessman Ed Sweeny, owner of the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL), and team General Manager Mike Cleary, now executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), hired McLendon as coach of the Pipers in 1959. The NIBL was a high profile company-sponsored league of post college players. Two years later, McLendon led the team to the NIBL championship and the national AAU championship. Sweeny eventually sold the team to George Steinbrenner in what was to become Steinbrenner?s first venture into professional sports ownership. The Pipers became part of the American Basketball League in 1962, making McLendon the first Black professional coach. In addition to his tenure in the NIBL, McLendon was also the head coach of the Denver Rockets (Nuggets) of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1969-70.

"Coach McLendon was one of the finest human beings who ever walked this earth," says Cleary. "As much of a competitor as he was, he embodied the true meanings of a gentle man and a gentleman while maintaining the high standards he set for himself and us all."

As successful McLendon was as a coach, his administrative responsibilities were equally as impressive. While serving as the basketball coach at North Carolina Central, McLendon was also the athletics director, a post he held for 12 years. At Hampton, he had additional positions as the assistant director of athletics and physical education. At Tennessee State, McLendon was appointed director of basketball operations from 1954-59 and director of the department of health, physical education, recreation and athletics from 1962-63. However, it was his service on the National Athletic Steering Committee, which McLendon founded in 1949, which had a large impact on the integration of basketball, and eventually, all sports.

The recipient of many honors, McLendon has also been inducted into several Halls of Fame, including the Helms Foundation - Coaches Division (1962), the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1978), the NAIA (1983), North Carolina Central (1984), Tennessee State (1984), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (1986), the state of North Carolina (1996) and the most prestigious of them all -- the Naismith Memorial (1978).

In November 1998, NACDA initiated a minority scholarship in his name - the John McLendon Minority Postgraduate Scholarship Awards. They will be presented to minority senior students who intend to pursue a graduate degree in athletics administration. Each of the five annual recipients will receive a $10,000 grant. The program will be administered by the NACDA Foundation. In addition to the scholarships, one recipient each year will be offered the opportunity to serve a nine-month internship in the NACDA office.

Said McLendon of the program, "The NACDA Postgraduate Scholarship Award program in my name is of special significance to me because it is an ongoing recognition with continuous opportunity for youth involved in the pursuit of a graduate degree. To be in a position to contribute to bringing forward minority candidates of academic achievement prepared to add graduate studies to their development is as honorable an assignment as any ever bestowed upon me. I eagerly look forward to the moment this tremendous award is activated and selected young men and women can embark on a career of a valuable and lasting contribution to sports in America."

The program will become McLendon's living legacy. The first recipients will receive their awards at NACDA's annual Convention in June, at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida. McLendon's family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the NACDA Foundation for the scholarship program. Contributions can be sent to the John McLendon Memorial Fund, NACDA Foundation, PO Box 16428, Cleveland, OH 44116.

John McLendon always represented the best in whatever he did," says Julius "Dr. J" Irving. "The Father of Black Basketball, he was also the godfather to the young Black athlete. I saw him as a true caretaker of the sport. His wealth of experience and knowledge allowed for each hour spent with him to be equivalent to reading an encyclopedia on basketball and on life."

McLendon is survived by his wife Joanna; daughters, Querida Banks of Silver Spring, Maryland; and Nanette Adams of Shaker Heights, Ohio; a son, David Bryant of Cleveland Heights, Ohio; five grandchildren; four great grandchildren; two sisters and a brother.