By: Brandon Spradley, Ed.D.
(Chair of Sports Management- United States Sports Academy)
The United States Sports Academy and the Mobile County Training School (MCTS) alumni association have had a rewarding partnership since 2013. The late Bill Clark, who taught chemistry and coached multiple sports at MCTS, served as a trustee at the United States Sports Academy from 2012 to 2015. Clark, along with current MCTS alumni association president Anderson Flen were among the first to see the value in partnering with an institution like the United States Sports Academy.
Dr. Brandon Spradley Dr. Brandon Spradley The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and the world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The Academy has worked with many organizations across the world, but one of its most rewarding partnerships in the state of Alabama is with the MCTS alumni association.
In 2013, the two organizations partnered together to create an oral history of athletes and coaches from MCTS. The project features interviews with great athletes such as Larry Shears, Norman Hill, A.C. Mosley, Theodore Spradley III, Rev. Julius Caesar Hope, Washington Taylor, Gabe Coleman, John Bacot, Charles Hope, and Bill Kidd. The project also features interviews from two great MCTS coaches (William Clark and Curtis Horton) who both reminiscence about the greatness of longtime head football coach Charles Rhodes.
The project was officially launched at the beginning of 2014. The project was successful in capturing the unsung stories of athletes and coaches from MCTS. A reporter from al.com reached out and wrote a few articles about the project, one featuring 1967 graduate and star football player Larry Shears. In the article, Shears reminisces about his success as an MCTS athlete and how significant it was to represent the school and the community.
“In our community — and when I say our community, I’m talking about Magazine Point, Plateau, Happy Hill, Chickasaw, all of the county communities, Saraland — athletics was a big deal for those communities,” Shears said. We didn’t have a college team here. We didn’t have a professional team. So sports was something that all communities got into with their high school teams (al.com, Larry Shears).The oral history project is currently housed on the United States Sports Academy’s online library website and can also be found on AlabamaMosaic, which is a repository of digital materials on Alabama’s history, culture, places, and people.
Here are the links:
The partnership has also been rewarding for current and recent students at the middle school. In 2015, students from Mobile County Training School visited the United States Sports Academy and had the opportunity to see the Human Performance Laboratory and the sport art museum. The students also had the opportunity to speak with some of the professors such as longtime Academy faculty member Dr. Fred Cromartie.
The Academy also reached out to the middle school’s athletic department to donate materials and assessments to help identify concussions in athletes.
The Alumni Association and the United States Sports Academy are currently planning to partner on a few other projects that will benefit both current students and graduates of MCTS.
By: William S. Lightfoot, Ph. D.
(Dean of the School of Business at Southern New Hampshire University)
In early January 2019, 3 of my colleagues (Professors Pat Spirou, Eklou Amendah, and Leila Samii) and I had the great opportunity to visit a little known, but historically important community in Mobile, Alabama. While the official name is Plateau, historically it is known as Africatown. It’s name points to a past established during the run up to the Civil War, when a local family hired a ship (The Clotida) to bring slaves from Benin to Mobile. Bringing slaves over from Africa had been outlawed in the United States by the 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. This didn’t stop the Meaher family from doing so.
As the slaves sought to survive in the belly of the two masted schooner, it made its way across the Atlantic in what is known as the ‘middle passage’. They would often hear a bell ring rapidly as a warning of a storm, or large wave that would rock the ship violently. Approximately 110 slaves survived the journey and were distributed as chattel to the investors in the venture, with the Meaher’s retaining 30 to work in their own plantations.
By the end of the war, the slaves were freed, with many returning to the place they first landed. There they established Africatown, adopting rules based on African Tribal law, while also retaining the language, customs and many cultural elements that were unique in their direct and immediate ties to their communities in Africa.
Flash forward, 15 years to the founding of the Mobile Country Training School (MCTS) in 1880 a black high school started in part by the former slaves of Africatown. It’s legacy is of an institution that has many successful athletes, educators, doctors, service personnel, and other professionals in many industries, and many places throughout the U.S. and beyond. A replica of the bell from the Clotilda sits in a prominent perch ready to ring rapidly anytime people are to be alerted that something important is about to happen.
By: Jimmy Hope
Over the course of our lives, we are sometimes impacted by people who have profound effect on who we are to become and what we value in life. We don’t always recognize the experience as such at the time, but reflection can bring about understanding and appreciation that makes us very thankful for special people who made a difference in our lives.
For many boys growing up in Plateau and surrounding communities in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, that special person was James Robertson, affectionately called “Fat”. James was a kind and generous man, though of modest means, who happened to be the owner and manager of the legendary Plateau Bears Baseball Team. James was a family man who worked hard to take care of his wife and children. You would often see him riding through the neighborhood in his station wagon filled with his children, seven of them. Yet, he always made room for other people’s children, teaching them the game of baseball and important lessons about life.
Many of the boys who James provided an opportunity to practice and eventually play with the Plateau Bears developed into outstanding baseball players. From the grounds of Mobile County Training School (MCTS), where the Plateau Bears practiced, came Hall of Famer Billy Williams and New York Mets 1969 World Series stars Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones. There were many other who played professionally, received college scholarships, starred on outstanding MCTS teams. For an even greater number of players, baseball was a stepping stone for achieving career and other life goals. The list of players who made significant contributions to their communities and places beyond is long.
James died in 1975, devoting most of his adult life helping others pursue their dreams at great sacrifice to himself and his family. The Plateau Bears continued to exist and played inspired baseball into the next decade but the games would not be the same. Without James, a void existed, not only because our coach and mentor had passed but also because there had not been an opportunity to collectively say “good bye” and “thank you” to this giant of a man.
In 2014, a group of former players, led by Anderson Flen, put into motion a plan to honor James and his family for their unselfish and lasting contributions to baseball in the Plateau community and the nation. On June 27, 2014, a banquet to celebrate the life of James “Fat” Robertson was held at the Ashbury Hotel, Mobile, Alabama. The event was well attended with representation from local government, institutions of higher education, community leaders, former players, and friends. The largest representation and, no doubt proudest, were members of the Robertson family. They got a chance to give reflections about their father, see the outpouring of love and hear proclamations, funny stories and words of endearment about a man who was loved by many.
The goal for this celebration was for it to be more than a one-night event; it was to become a lasting tribute. What needed to happen to truly honor James and ensure his sacrifices and those of his family were not in vain was to re-establish baseball in Plateau and surrounding communities. There is much to be done to make this goal a reality. Measures have already been taken by Mobile County Training School Alumni Association (MCTSAA}in partnership with other organizations to put in place a foundation for planning and implementation of community baseball. What better way to remember the legacy of James than to have the fields of MCTS and Whitley School, now idle, overrun with kids engaged in organized summer baseball.
Ideas, involvement and contributions are needed now to bring this goal to fruition.
Interested persons can contact James Hope, MCTSAA. Donations can be sent to Community Foundation of South Alabama in behalf of the James “FAT” Robertson Donor Advised Fund. Visit https://www.communityfoundationsa.org/ or call (251) 438-5591 for more information.
Doris Allen Lee was inducted into the Alabama USBC State Bowling Hall of Fame on July 28, 2018 in Guntersville, Alabama; in recognition of dedicated service and achievement in the Sport of bowling.
She has bowled for fifty-three (53) consecutive years. Doris has participated in forty Alabama Women’s Championship Tournaments and seventeen (17) State Senior Tournaments. She represented Alabama in Reno, NV during the 2013 and 2016 USBC Women’s Senior Championship Tournaments, both in the 75+ Age Group. She tied for 17th place out of 30th participants in 2013 and won 4th place out of 25 participants in 2016.
Doris was elected to the Alabama Women’s Bowling Association’s Board of Directors and served a three-year term prior to the merger. During her tenure, she served as chairman/member of six (6) different committees. She has attended thirty-five (35) annual meetings as a delegate or alternate. She has served as chairman/member of several committees during the meetings. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Mobile USBC Women’s Bowling Association for 39 years and as Sgt-At-Arms for three (3) years. Doris has served as chairman or member on every committee during her tenure on the Board of Directors.
She served as a certified YABA coach of the Bantam age group for ten (10) years. She was inducted into Mobile’s Women’s Bowling Hall of Fame in 1995 for Meritorious Service to the sport. Doris currently bowls in two (2) leagues during the winter seasons, just as she has for over forty years.
Doris was a graduate of Mobile County Training School in the Class of 1953.
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