SEC’s first black football player sees progress in race relations
Former Kentucky Wildcats basketball star Derek Anderson, UK football barrier breaker Nate Northington, and ex-Wildcats radio announcer Ralph Hacker headline a 2019 class of six inductees into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame.
Also chosen for enshrinement are former Louisville Cardinals football star and Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, longtime Kentucky State University coach and administrator William Exum, and Willis Augustus Lee, a seven-time medal winner at the 1920 Olympics as a shooter.
The Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame Banquet and induction ceremony will be held Aug. 19 at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. For ticket information, call (502) 587-6742.
Founded in 1963, the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame has been owned and operated for the past two years by the Louisville Sports Commission. A selection committee that included 16 media members from around Kentucky as well as a separate “bygone era committee” selected this year’s inductees.
In alphabetical order, here is a closer look at the class of 2019:
Derek Anderson: A high school star at Doss in Louisville, Anderson, now, 44, played his first two college seasons at Ohio State but transferred to the University of Kentucky in 1994. After sitting out a season, Anderson became the starting small forward (9.4 points a game) on Rick Pitino’s 1996 NCAA title team. The following season, Anderson became a UK star and was averaging 18.7 points a game when his season was cut short in January by a knee injury. A first-round draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1997, Anderson played 11 years in the NBA (12 ppg and 3.4 assists career averages) and was a member of the Miami Heat’s 2006 NBA championship team.
Deion Branch: An all-conference receiver for Louisville in 2000 and 2001, Branch, now 39, played 11 seasons in the NFL for the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Branch was named Super Bowl XXXIX MVP after catching 11 passes for 133 yards in New England’s 24-21 win over Philadelphia. Branch played in 140 career NFL games and had 518 receptions for 6,644 yards with 39 touchdown receptions.
William Exum: The first black football player at the University of Wisconsin, Exum enjoyed a long career as a coach and athletics director (1949-1977) at Kentucky State University. In 1964, Exum coached KSU to the Division II men’s cross country national championship. Exum was head manager of the 1972 and 1976 USA Men’s Olympic Track and Field Teams. Exum died in 1988.
Ralph Hacker: For almost three decades, Hacker worked on the University of Kentucky football and men’s basketball radio broadcasts as both an analyst and play-by-play announcer. Prior to his work calling UK games, Hacker had also done radio broadcasts of high school games in his native Richmond as well as Eastern Kentucky University football and basketball.
Willis Augustus Lee: An Owen County native and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Lee earned seven medals — five gold, a silver and a bronze — in the 1920 Olympics as a member of the U.S. Rifle Team. Lee went on to build a distinguished career as an officer in the U.S. Navy, including leading a task force of American battleships to victory over a larger Japanese force at Guadalcanal. Lee died in 1945.
Nate Northington: A graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Louisville, Northington shattered the color barrier in SEC football when he played for the University of Kentucky against Mississippi on Sept. 30, 1967. Eventually transferring to Western Kentucky, Northington was the starting fullback on WKU’s 1970 OVC championship team. In 2016, UK unveiled statues of Northington, now 71, and three other former Kentucky football players who integrated the Wildcats’ program.