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Jack Trice: First African-American Athlete to Join Iowa State College

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The second college football game for Jack Trice also turned out to be his last. Despite that, he left a longstanding legacy, having broken the color barrier in college sports as the first black athlete to join Iowa State. 

The Iowa State football stadium is named after him, the Jack Trice Stadium, and he also has a statue on the campus. Here’s Jack Trice’s story.

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Early Days

Jack Trice, third from the right with other Iowa players. Source: Wikimedia licensed by  public domain

Jack Trice was born in 1902 in Ohio. He was always interested in sports, and when he joined East Technical High School, he played football and participated in track & field. According to Johnny Behm, who played alongside him, Trice was the best high school footballer. He was fast, smart at the game, and strong. 

After he finished high school, Trice, together with five other payers, joined Iowa State College. They played under Sam Williamson, who coached them in high school. This made him the first African-American to play college sports. In terms of education, Trice studied animal husbandry, but he made his name in the field.

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Playing for Iowa State

A reflection of Jack Trice’s legacy at Iowa State College. Video Credit: ESPN College Football

Racism was at its peak when Jack Trice played for Iowa. Many black players could only play in colleges in the South so he understood the significance of the moment. This came to light with a poem he penned the night before his second game. 

He was alone in his room, segregated from his white teammates who were busy plotting against the opponents. His words almost foreshadowed what would happen, which is why his note resonated. 

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Game Day

A look at the death of Jack Trice. Video Credit: The Number One College Football Show

“My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about the field tomorrow. I’ll do more than my part requires,” Just as he alluded to in his notes, Jack Trice played his heart out. He sustained an injury in the first half. 

Despite that, he continued playing and helped his team go into the break tied 7-7. After the game, it emerged that he had broken his collarbone. This was an era when players didn’t use protective gear to shield them from impact. 

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Second Half

As a defensive line, Trice dealt with a lot of tackles. The biggest blow that aggravated his condition came in the second half. Iowa State trailed 14-7 against Minnesota when Trice ran toward an opponent with a player and threw himself toward blockers. He was left on the ground and was later taken to the hospital for further treatment.

Benny, who was part of the game, said the opposition fullback stepped on him and was injured, but Trice still wanted to play. Unfortunately, two days after the injury, Jack Trick died from internal bleeding.

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Funeral and Memorial

Iowa State University suspended classes for two days in honor of Jack Trice. His letter was read, and students contributed toward his funeral expenses. The letter he wrote the night before his fatal game was inscribed on a plaque and placed in a gym. 

In 1957, that plaque was found, and a series of events began that paid tribute to his contributions. In 1974, students voted for the school’s football stadium to be renamed after Jack Trice. 

Although it didn’t happen immediately, they pressured the administration until it happened in 1997. In 1988, Iowa students crowdfunded and erected a statue of Jack Trice on campus.  

Jack Trice’s impact on college football and the sport is evident. He put his life on the line to show that black people can play the game. Consequently, the students at Iowa State, a predominantly white school, kept his spirit alive. They acknowledged that despite their racial differences, he was one of them and embodied the school’s values. 

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