Coach Had To Wrestle With Integration

Celebrating Black History/ 'Black Athletes Are Doing Better'

February 26, 1991|By Lem Satterfield

Southern High wrestling coach Tyrone Neal, a two-time state wrestling champion at Southern, was in the freshman class that helped integrate the school in 1967.

"Compared to college -- where I was basically alone -- integrating Southern wasn't that difficult a transition,"said Neal, a 1971 Southern grad, of the busing process that sent a large group of black students from Annapolis to the Harwood school -- then predominantly white.

Neal, 38, went on to wrestling success at Montgomery Junior College-Rockville and the University of Maryland, where he was a two-time junior college and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion, respectively. He was the first black wrestler to get the ACC's outstanding wrestler award.

He was married shortly after college and had hisfirst son, Sherrard, who now wrestles for Southern. Neal has four children -- 10 years and up -- and works full time as a prison corrections officer.

Seven years ago, two of his children, Tyrone Jr., then 5, and Tiffany, then 3, were badly burned when his truck caught fire.

"It cost us over $25,000 in doctor bills, but we got through itwith positive thinking," Neal said. "I tell all of my wrestlers -- black and white -- about the confidence I gained from my wrestling experience. The one-on-one, self-reliance. I don't think I could have gone anywhere else to develop that faith in myself."

While in juniorcollege, Neal lived in the home of his coach, Dick Shelley, who was white, and they formed a father-son relationship that still lasts today.

In 1975, both The Sun and the now-defunct Washington Star published stories about Neal's success.

"The Sun's headline was 'Blackmakes good as Maryland wrestler,' the other one read 'Black Terp wrestler meets chal

lenge to become top-ranked Maryland wrestler,' " Neal recalled. "My teammates weren't envious, they thought the attentionwas great. In fact, they would point out the articles for me. They even voted me the team captain."

Although he enjoyed the respect ofhis teammates and the pleasantries of success, Neal grew homesick incollege.

"There were some lonely times for me when I had no otherblacks to relate to. Times when I rarely left my dorm room," said Neal.

"There were also times which challenged me to keep my focus and identity. The drug life was enticing. There were enough drugs around to get an army high, but I just didn't touch them.

"My priorities were wrestling and keeping my grades up. As a black and a wrestler,I felt obligated to prove myself."

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