As March Madness 2018 swirls around us, several Cheyney alumni spurred a movement to recognize and celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the winning of the Men’s NCAA Division II Basketball Championship by the John Chaney coached Cheyney State Wolves. Pamela West who was a cheerleader when the school won the NCAA championship in 1978 and activist attorney, Michael Coard who was a student leader at Cheyney during the championship run, organized a series of tributes and events to pay homage to the team and its legendary coach.
“I was working part time for Roger Laysath so when Cheyney called to speak to him about participating in a recognition, he told them ‘talk to my assistant’, me. So that’s how I got involved and I spoke with Michael and of course when you mention something to Michael about Cheyney he just runs with it. He is the one who arranged the proclamations and the recognition. So for the fortieth you want to do something positive about and for Cheyney” shared Ms. West who stated the response has been extremely positive.
First there was a series of social media posts to make people aware of the approaching fortieth anniversary; then Pamela West organized a time for the team and Coach Chaney to be recognized and honored during a home basketball double header on campus. Next Michael Coard had the team members on his WURD radio program and his TV Courtroom television program on the PhillyCam Philadelphia Access Media station. Coard also arranged for official recognition and presentation of resolutions at the March 15th Philadelphia City Council session in City Hall, a screening of the actual game footage on campus Sunday March 18th (the 40th anniversary of the game) and a ceremony in Harrisburg on April 16th to honor the team.
Most of the championship team members attended the City Hall ceremony accompanied by cheering alumni. Cheyney alumna councilwoman Jannie (from Cheyney) Blackwell was the prime sponsor of the resolution which was supported by her colleagues. Several of the team members in attendance commented on the significance of winning the championship, what it meant for them forty years ago and what the recognition means now.
Milton Colston who was a guard on the team said, “It’s been forty years and the guys are still here to take part in a special moment in time and in Cheyney’s history. We’re still in contact with each other by phone, e-mail and other ways.”
Arthur Stone tells a poignant story about what being on the team meant to him. “That accomplishment helped springboard me. Coming from a poor background and caught up in the gang culture I was trying to figure out how to get out of that. I used to play in the Gold Medal (basketball) Tournaments around the city and Coach Chaney came to scout me. He spoke to me and a guy name John “Blue” Walker who was six-eight, two twenty-five who is now deceased. He invited us to Cheyney to watch some of their games. We liked it and decided to come. No one in my family had attended collage I didn’t know anything about college but I liked the campus and what I saw. I applied and was accepted. I worked all summer at the Food Distribution Center and saved up $800. I went to Cheyney but when I got there they told me tuition was $1,500. I was broken and I cried, I cried a lot. I knew if I went back to Philly I would either be killed or in jail for a long time because I was a gang banger from The Valley Gang.
John Chaney told me to go see Wade Wilson, Dr. Wade Wilson the president. I went to see Dr Wilson he called me Sugar and told me he was going to adopt me as a grandson. He sent me to see Juanita Faust who was the Financial Aid Director and Clarence Thomas who was the Dean of Student Affairs and they told me my room was 719. I didn’t ask any questions I just went. For the first two years I never left campus, I was afraid if I went home something bad would happen to me. After I became confident I was able to go back to Philly”
Stone feels the recognition is greater than him or the championship team. “This forty year anniversary is nice but it’s not for me, it’s for the kids coming behind me and for the institution who are struggling now. Hopefully people can take a look at Cheyney and see it is really a great place to go. I have two degrees from Cheyney I have a Bachelors and a Masters degree. I hope these resolutions and recognition will keep Cheyney alive. I hope people will hear my story, hear our story and the powers that be will realize Cheyney is worth saving. I’m not Jesse Jackson he wants to keep Hope alive I want to keep Cheyney alive.”
For Dwayne Coleman the recognition of their accomplishment is history and awe inspiring. “For me this was life changing. Personally it taught me unity, leadership, it taught me how to be a good father, I can’t explain the impact it had on my life as a freshman. I was only eighteen year’s old coming out of Carlisle Pennsylvania a small country town to Philadelphia with all the city guys, it was a whole new world for me. It was remarkable to see what Coach Chaney did to create a tight unit and as a team.”
Coleman says the experience was divine intervention. “All the pieces came together when all the individuals, people and players God sent from all over the country came together to win this national championship, because prior to that they could not win (a championship). But when he (Coach Chaney) brought in three freshmen: me, Arthur Stone and Blue Walker, we were the three missing pieces they needed to get over the hump, to get over the mountain to take it to the pinnacle, the championship mountaintop. It was the three of us that knitted the team together that made it what it was.”
Andrew “Dip” Fields who went on to play professional basketball overseas says, “To meet these men here and share this experience during good times and bad was one of the greatest times of my life. Nothing beats this I’ve won championships overseas but nothing beats this.” Fields and other team members are now willing to help save Cheyney stay open to service future generations.
At a time when Cheyney University is struggling to survive, rebrand itself and become a new incarnation, this recognition of past glories is a strong foundation to build upon.