News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Area Agency on Aging 10B, Inc.

NOCHE

Knight Foundation


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Sports


New play commemorates Ohio's first black professional football player
Jim Stoner tells Charles Follis' story in his play "The Black Cyclone"
Story by SAM HENDREN


 
Follis in action.
Courtesy of Blackcollegenines
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:
The new play "The Black Cyclone" tells the story of Ohio's forgotten sports legend Charles Follis. Follis, from Wooster, is credited with being the first black professional football player. For Ohio Public Radio, WOSU's Sam Hendren spoke to the playwright about Follis's remarkable story.
LISTEN: Jim Stoner describes his play "The Black Cyclone"

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (3:39)


Jim Stoner first learned about Charles Follis when he was president of the Shelby, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce.

“I was working in Shelby and walked into the Shelby Museum and here’s this photograph of the Shelby Blues in 1902.  And here’s a black man, featured prominently in the center, holding the championship ball.”

That young black man was Charles Follis. He was 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. The media of the day dubbed him “The Black Cyclone.” He had been recruited by Shelby entrepreneur Frank Schieffer. Schieffer managed the local football team that later became the Blues.

“Frank somewhere along the way decided that he didn’t really care what somebody looked like, he didn’t care what their racial background was, he wanted to win. And that was what was driving him when he signed Charles.”

Predating the NFL
That was in 1902.  Somewhere during his four years in Shelby, Follis signed a contract that guaranteed him $10 a game.  That contract made Follis the first black professional football player. Even though it was pre-NFL, the achievement is noted at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. This is an excerpt from the television series "NFL Films Presents:"

“Back when we decided we were going to create the Road to Equality display, one burning question remained: Who was the first African-American to play professional football?  And who was the gentleman in this photo?”

“Sometimes there are pioneers who are nearly lost in history.”

A hero to some, unknown to many
“I was probably 4 or 5 years old and my parents happened to mention to me, ‘Oh, you had a great uncle who was an awesome football player. He was a hero to us. But to the rest of the world he was just an unknown.’”

Jim Stoner says Follis’s great athletic abilities helped him triumph in what was then a very brutal sport.

“Football was such a different game then. It was so brutal. Sixteen people died playing football in Ohio in 1902.  Two of them drowned just getting buried face down in a pile-up,” Stoner says.

But Follis, Stoner says, had more to overcome than physical hardships. He had to endure rampant racism. Opposing teams and their supporters often shouted epithets. Even his own teammates voiced their disapproval.

“There were people on the team who didn’t want to travel with him. There were men on the team who didn’t want Charles on the team, who couldn’t understand why a black was being allowed to play with them. When they went into other communities where folks had likely never even seen a black man, they would kick him, they would spit at him,” Stoner says.

Stoner says Follis endured those hardships. He drew strength from his strong religious faith and from a friend named Brach Rickey. Later Follis would play baseball and his friendship with Rickey deepened.

“Branch was from Ohio, went to Ohio Wesleyan, faced Charles on the baseball field, saw how he was treated, then later got to know him even better, and decided to celebrate him. It’s a tremendous story of faith, perseverance, and Charles, just through his love of the game, did change the face of America forever,” Stoner says.

The Charles Follis story will again be presented on stage at Malabar Farms next summer. Stoner says there are plans in the works for a feature film.

Follis’s life was cut short in 1910.  He died of pneumonia at the age of 31.

Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook



Stories with Recent Comments

Bridgestone exec indictments are latest step in a billion-dollar price-fixing case
Why is O.P.E.C Not investigated and charges brought against it and it's member companies? It sounds exactly the same...

Ohio's new drilling rules rely on known earthquake faults
requiring drillers to place seismic monitors when they drill within 3 miles of known fault lines. This comment really upsets me!! What good does an instrument t...

Kasich's gubernatorial ad focuses on his blue-collar roots
John Kasich is the biggest con-man in America. He will say one thing and then do the opposite. He is terribly successful at fooling the public and he is worki...

Cab drivers who refuse to drive Gay Games taxis will be replaced
the irony is that most americans distrust or hate muslims much more than they hate gays!! silly ignorant bigots-GO HOME!!!

New transportation companies come to Cleveland
Ride-sharing companies are breaking laws and regulations every day. From regulatory fee evasion to use of smartphone while driving (and even two smartphones(!) ...

Cleveland anti-poverty agency executive resigns amid financial probe
That committee won't be too independent. He plans to stay on until after the new appointee is chosen.

How can you wipe a criminal record clean?
Great article! NO CLINIC in May 2014, however, because it's graduation month for students For the next dates of the FREE Legal Clinic to help with Expungment,...

Drilling remains suspended while ODNR investigates NE Ohio earthquakes
Flaring and lights, so has all been halted? Also, smell of HS2 and sounds of an auger/drilling/water rushing underground. So, has all been halted? In light of t...

Will the Ohio River carry fracking wastewater?
Texas $ vs. WV citizens . Who will our governor listen to?

Copyright © 2014 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University