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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

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Alumnus covers basketball team’s pioneering spirit in new book


In Fall 2015, UH alumnus Robert Jacobus published his book “Cougars in the 1960s: Death Threats, the Veer Offense, and the Game of the Century”. Although mentioned in the title, this book contains much more than the story of a UH basketball team.

“This is a timeless story of how one institution, and a few people, took on senseless bigotry and helped change the South and America for the better,” forewords writer and history professor James Kirby Martin said.

Jacobus encompasses first-hand accounts and narrative of those involved with the social and racial issues during that decade, ranging from team coaches and fans to the UH president.

First influenced by the integration actions by football coach Bill Yeoman and basketball coach Guy Lewis, Jacobus takes a deeper look into the inclusion of black players into the UH athletics program in the 1960s, when most Texas colleges had primarily all-white sports teams.

“Most people probably don’t realize the role UH played in the Civil Rights Movement by having the courage to integrate UH during such a turbulent time in the south,” Jacobus said.

UH was the first major university in the South to integrate its athletic program back in the 1960s.

“UH was the pioneering spirit of integration in this field of athletics,” manuscript editor and ex-reporter for the Houston Post Tom Kennedy said. “UH had made significant strides with commitment and determination. Other schools followed.”

Jacobus interviewed 240 people and was amazed at the consistency of their recollections, thus proving the consistency of the inspiring message he conveys in his novel of the Cougars in the 1960s.

In January 1968, the Houston Cougar basketball team defeated the UCLA Bruins, ending their 47-game winning streak. The outcome of this game, coined the “Game of the Century,” on national television, would not have been such if coach Guy Lewis had not recruited two black players, Don Chaney and Elvin Hayes earlier that season.

As this situation unfolded for the Cougars’ benefit, students watched as the walls of discrimination in the South fell down.

“If they played with us, we would have a better quality team,” Kennedy said. “So what was the reason they weren’t playing with us? There wasn’t one.”

The book is not only a sports book, but a history book that well illustrates the initiative UH took by putting mere unimportant differences aside, in order to better the future for the university and its students.

“UH should be appreciated today, not just as a powerhouse, but a pioneering powerhouse in its rise to academic and athletic stardom,” Martin said. “Houston Cougar courage represents an example for all current Coogs to follow in the days, years and decades ahead.”

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