Jackie Robinson once coached basketball at an Austin college

Jackie Robinson is known for breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. But did you know that he once coached basketball in Austin?

College basketball, to be more specific. Robinson was a coach at Samuel Huston College, a historically black college in Austin that doesn’t exist anymore.

AP FILE -- Jackie Robinson swings a bat during spring training in Sanford, Fla., in this March, 1946 photo. Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut in organized ball when he played for the Montreal Royals in an exhibition game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. (AP Photo/File)

AP FILE — Jackie Robinson swings a bat during spring training in Sanford, Fla., in this March, 1946 photo (AP Photo/File)

According to this Bleacher Report article, Robinson made his way to Austin following his honorable discharge from the Army in 1944. He was stationed at Ft. Hood at the time of his discharge, and accepted a job from Samuel Huston College president Rev. Karl Downs.

As it turns out, Downs was Robinson’s pastor in Pasadena, Calif., where the baseball star grew up.

Robinson went on to coach at the college for the 1944-45 season, when his Samuel Huston Dragons team competed in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“There was very little money involved, but I knew that Karl would have done anything for me, so I couldn’t turn him down,” Robinson wrote of the coaching job in his autobiography, according to Bleacher Report.

According to the Bleacher Report article, little to no records of that season exist— the college merged with Tillotson College in 1952 to form Huston-Tillotson University, and the institution has no photos of Robinson or of the team from 1944-45.

Memories of Robinson’s coaching career have faded in Austin, but some residents remembered playing for him in a 1997 Statesman article.

“‘He was a disciplinarian coach,’ said D.C. Clements of Waco. ‘He believed we should be students first and athletes second. If you cut a class or anything like that, he would put you off the team or give you some laps. He was a great coach and a great teacher. He was way ahead of his time.'”

Harold “Pea Vine” Adanandus, the Dragons’ trainer during Robinson’s time as a coach, remembers the day Robinson accepted an offer to play baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs, the most successful team in the Negro Leagues at that time.

“‘We met up in Jackie’s office, and he was sorting his mail,’ said Waco resident Harold ‘Pea Vine’ Adanandus, who was then the team’s trainer. ‘He had received a letter from the Kansas City Monarchs. He showed me the letter, and they wanted him to play ball. They offered him a $500 bonus and $250 a month. He asked me, `Vine, what would you do?”

‘I said, `Well, Jackie, I didn’t even know you played any baseball.’ And he said, `Yeah, I play a little.””

And, as the rest of the game’s fans know, “a little” baseball playing was the start of Robinson’s professional career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He made history on April 15, 1947 as the first black man to play professional baseball.

His professional debut might have been in Brooklyn, but Robinson’s career began in Austin.

 

 

 

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