Last week, there was a very special tribute to Leon John Whitley, a Philadelphia basketball great, who had a terrific career. Whitley, a product of Ben Franklin High and Winston-Salem State University, passed away on Oct. 2, the day after WSSU’s homecoming. His passing was a surprise to those who had benefited from his personal and financial assistance while students at Winston-Salem.

Officiating at the tribute were Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Sahib Abdulkhabir (Steve Smith) and Theodore “Ted” Blunt. Speakers included Dr. Alan Page, Ernest Brown for Jack DeFares, John Chaney, Jay Norman, Herman McNeil, Antoine Terrell and Monte’ Ross. The legendary Winston-Salem State basketball star Cleo Hill was also in attendance along with Sonny Hill.

Herman McNeil, a classmate of Whitley: “Leon was a student at WSTC (the university’s predecessor) and a basketball player on the very Winston-Salem CIAA championship team in 1953. Leon was a three-sports athlete — basketball, football and track. We are praying that Leon’s legacy will add to our special WSSU memories. Let’s keep him in our hearts forever.”

The closing comments were made by two of Whitley’s most notable recruits to Winston-Salem: Monroe and Blunt. Monroe’s comments addressed the need for closure, since many of his recruits didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye or to thank Whitley for his assistance. Blunt’s comments included acknowledging the New-Penn-Del WSSU alumni chapter president, Cheryl Akuma. The local chapter under the leadership of Akuma had received a $500 donation in Whitley’s name and the donor pledged to raise an additional $500 for the local chapter’s first scholarship in his name. Blunt also mentioned correspondence from Dr. Jim Young, who wrote, “To honor Leon, I am going to start a scholarship in his name at Winston-Salem State University.”

Whitley had an eye for athletic talent and he served as Hall of Fame head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines’ Underground Railroad conductor for athletes from East Coast schools who wanted to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the South. He also helped many of the athletes he recruited with getting summer jobs, permanent jobs and even getting into graduate schools. He was a mentor, friend, big brother and father figure.

Host pastor, the Rev. Gregory Johnson, gave final remarks. Also in attendance were family members; Alice McNeil, the Eastern Region coordinator and classmate; other former high school and college classmates and friends.

 

Eagles get bid for top team honor

The Philadelphia Eagles organization has been nominated for the Sports Team of the Year award presented by Beyond Sport, an organization that promotes, develops and funds the use of sports to drive positive social change around the world. The Eagles are one of four teams considered from 28 sports and 130 different countries.

The Eagles have been a national leader in sustainability and health and educational outreach through their philanthropic wing, Eagles Youth Partnership. This is the second time the team has been nominated for the award. The winner will be announced in South Africa at the Beyond Sport Conference on Dec. 8.

 

Contact Tribune staff writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or dhunt@phillytrib.com.

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