National Education Association to Honor ’66 NCAA Champ Willie Worsley

by June 28, 2011

From our friends at the National Education Association:

WASHINGTON—Willie Worsley, point guard on the 1966 NCAA Champion Texas Western team and an inspiring public school education support professional for many years, will be honored by the National Education Association at its annual Human and Civil Rights dinner in Chicago,  July 1, 2011.

“As a basketball player and a breaker of the color barrier, Willie Worsley’s deeds have been sung. But as an education support professional, his accomplishments have gone unsung,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.  “Yet, he has helped countless youngsters navigate the treacherous passage to adulthood, which for us makes him a double hero.”

Worsley, who currently resides in Pomona, NY, will receive NEA’s H. Councill Trenholm Award. Trenholm served as executive secretary of the American Teachers Association (ATA), which represented eighty-five thousand Black teachers who taught in segregated schools. Trenholm played a pivotal role in the merger of ATA and NEA in 1966.

While H. Councill Trenholm was making history in the education world in 1966, Willie Worsely was helping to change college basketball.  The final game of the 1966 NCAA tournament was a contest between  Kentucky, its legendary coach Adolph Rupp, and its all-White starting five  against little Texas Western, which started five Black players, recruited from around the country. Before the game, Coach Rupp declared, “No five Blacks are going to beat Kentucky.”

But Worsley and his teammates led Texas Western to a 72-65 win. Years later, Pat Riley, who played on that Kentucky team and went on to have a career in the NBA as a player and Hall of Fame coach, called the historic game,  the Emancipation Proclamation of 1966.”  In 2006, the Disney movie, Glory Road, celebrated Worsley and his teammates.

After college and a stint in the NBA, Worsley returned to the Bronx, where he began working with troubled boys. He eventually became a full-time hall monitor at Spring Valley High School in the East Ramapo School District. In 1985, Worsley volunteered to be Spring Valley’s basketball coach and has held that job ever since. His colleagues say that Worsley has been instrumental in helping many students stay in school and out of trouble. Many of his former students still keep in touch with Worsley, and they call him “Dad.”

Worsley is a member of the NEA/NYSUT-affiliated Maintenance, Transportation, Special Services and Security Employees Union. “As long as I have a breath in me,” Worsley said, “I’ll be a teacher—money comes and money goes, love stays in the heart.”