Father Ryan High School Salutes Sports Equality - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Father Ryan High School Salutes Sports Equality

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by Emily Luxen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - At Father Ryan High School, a history lesson accompanied the first home football game of the season.

Before the team took on Brentwood Academy, the school kicked off its celebration of "50 years of sports equality," by recognizing some of the people responsible for making it the first integrated school in Tennessee.

The family of one of the school's first African American athletes, Willie Brown, his teammate Jesse Porter, his coach Bill Derrick, and his former principal James Hitchcock, were honored in a special ceremony on the field.

"It's a definitive moment not just in our school's history, but the state's history and the region's history," said Jim McIntyre, President of Father Ryan High School.

Father Ryan was not only the first in the state to integrate following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, it was the first predominantly white school to allow African Americans to play sports.

Brown joined the basketball team in 1963, and led the team to a regional championship in 1965.  He passed away in 1975, but his family said he was smiling and watching the ceremony from heaven.

"I know he's watching," said Ann Brown Beatty, Willie Brown's sister.  "I thank God he allowed me to be a part of this family that was able to make a difference in the lives of many children to come."

Coach Bill Derrick said Brown stayed focused in spite of all the distractions off the court.

"He had a lot of pressure on him as a player," said Derrick.  "He had such a good personality, and was so level-headed.  He was just a good man."

Derrick encouraged Brown and his only other African American teammate, Jesse Porter, to work hard and stay positive.

"You didn't really realize the meaning behind what we were doing," said Derrick.  "It worked out real good.  I was fortunate to be a part of that."

Photos of Brown, Derrick and the rest of the team now proudly hang in a trophy case in the Father Ryan gym. 

The celebration of "50 Years of Sports Equality" will continue throughout this year and into next with several more events.

Email: eluxen@newschannel5.com
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