Quick show of hands, how many of you have heard of Dick Leftridge before today? I must confess that I never heard of Mr. Leftridge until recently, when his son Jack Richard Leftridge Jr. contacted me. The younger namesake is on a quest to have his father’s name and accomplishments remembered and duly recognized in the history books. The timing of this move could not have come at a better time than the highly anticipated release of Disney’s “The Express” movie set to hit theaters. The Express is based on the life of the late great Ernie Davis of Syracuse, who was the first African-American soccer player to win the Heisman (1961).
Like Mr. Davis, all accounts point to the fact that Dick Leftridge was a pioneer in his own right, based on my research and a synopsis received from his son, Dick Leftridge was the first African-American to receive a soccer scholarship to play. at a major university in the south, after he signed with West Virginia University in 1962, which at the time was playing in the southern conference, down the line from Mason Dixon. The recruiting and signing of Dick Leftridge, accompanied by the subsequent signing of another black player, Roger Alford, represented a change in the culture of the university. According to Richard Leftridge Jr., WVU was not his father’s first choice despite being a local product (Hinton, WV). He wanted to go to Ohio State to play with the legendary Woody Hayes; however, the elderly Leftridge bowed to the pressure he received from the boosters from local politicians, who wanted him to stay home and play at WVU. According to the document, even the local chapter of the NAACP encouraged Leftridge to attend the local university and be the one who broke the color barrier at WVU. Dick Leftridge played for WVU from 1963 to 1965, during that time he garnered some impressive stats, he was the top field winner and scorer each of his three years at WVU, in 1965 he was named Amateur Athlete of the Year by West’s sports writer Virginia. Association. Dick Leftridge was the first African-American to play for the South team in the North-South Shrine game in 1965, he was also the first African-American named to the University of Pittsburgh All-Opponent team, and Dick Leftridge was also the first African-Americans to vote. to the second teams of the entire southern conference.
Some of you older Pittsburgh Steelers fans may remember Dick Leftridge as the team’s first-round pick in 1966. He was picked third overall that year, he was also an AFL Miami Dolphins fourth-round pick that same year. Unfortunately, Dick Leftridge only played an unspectacular season for the Steelers and was labeled a failure by many fans and media personnel. This is where the story gets interesting; There are mixed accounts of why an athlete with so much promise lasted only one season in the NFL. Depending on the version you believe, some say that Dick Leftridge simply did not have the desire and discipline to pull it off, there are stories that say he simply “ate” to get out of the league by gaining too much weight to be effective as an elite running back, According to an article about Mr. Leftridge written in the Hinton Daily News (7/19/66), the Steelers had a weight clause in their contract, the fine print said that every pound over 230 contributed to the camp would entail a $ 50 fine, however, in an interview with a Charleston Daily News reporter (9/26/85), Mr. Leftridge gave a different version of events, quoted as saying that “the Steelers put in the newspapers that I weighed 300 pounds when I did the report. Everybody believed that and still do. I admit I was lazy sometimes, but I wasn’t fat. I weighed 242 pounds when I did the report. everything I’ve ever done. I was just a kid poor Hinton (WV). How could l people think that I would throw a ch? ance to make a million dollars? I would never turn my back on that. “
Controversy seemed to follow WVU’s Leftridge throughout his short professional career. He was fired from school in the middle of his senior year semester, a few days after playing his last college game and his eligibility had ended, in 1976 he would return to school. to complete your degree. Young Leftridge is also quick to point out that his father was not a saint; he struggled with his own demons once his football career was finally over. He shared details of his father’s checkered past, including the time he spent in Detroit working in the auto industry and making questionable decisions to get involved in the drug game as a dealer both in Detroit and upon his return to his hometown, as a result of Being on the wrong side of the law, Mr. Leftridge was sentenced to five years in federal prison (1987). According to his son, while the elderly Leftridge was in prison, there was a series of alleged verbal, mental and physical harassment of the family on the streets and at workplaces.
He also shared stories of his frustration with getting his father’s story told and published. “I got in touch with a lot of people, especially the African American celebrities that I see and hear in the media and received little or no interest. I’m not sure if the story is too controversial or what. It also faced an uphill battle. in getting WVU to properly recognize his father’s accomplishments and historical significance to the Mountaineers. According to Richard JR., the school did not really recognize his accomplishments until his death and even then the school only published a brief review, to this day has not yet been inducted into his Hall of Fame. Critics will now argue that being inducted should not be based on race as a selection criterion, and should be judged strictly on his athletic achievements, on the other hand, fans can point to his stats and some of his awards (mentioned above) and, in this case, being the first African-American player at WVU, during a time of tumultuous unrest (Era of the civil rights) in the history of this country, must be taken into account. Along with his performance on the field, he was and still is the highest NFL draft pick in the school’s history. Does Dick Leftridge deserve to be inducted into the WVU Hall of Fame? I will let you decide. IMHO I think the story of Dick Leftridge is intriguing, mystical and historically important and needs further exploration, if any of you wish to help young Leftridge on his journey to promote his father’s story (he can be reached at jrljr63 @ yahoo.com), would be very kind, not looking for the fame and fortune of this story, just the opportunity to share the legacy of a forgotten Pioneer.