Measuring Courage

In my research for “The Man Who Saved Basketball,” I initially focused on the articles and interviews that fixed on Junius Kellogg’s participation in helping to break open the biggest scandal in the history of collegiate basketball. Then I found numerous articles and pictures on his tragic automobile accident. However, beyond those mentions, information has been relatively difficult to obtain.

Our lives are often characterized by not so much by major events, but in the smaller, everyday acts of courage. Courage might be a person returning to her workplace while dealing with chemotherapy, a man getting up at 4 a.m. to study for his college courses before heading off to a ‘9-5’ job, a couple balancing several careers in order to afford better schooling for their young child.

And in the course of leading our lives, we often leave behind documentation of the courageous journey. We take other people’s word that someone overcame odds, but every so often it is nice to observe it, even from a kind of third party source.

Customs Forms

On April 4, 1954, en-route to a pick-up basketball exhibition game with other professional players, the car in which Junius and four other men were traveling flipped up to five times at high speed. Four of the men escaped either unharmed or slightly injured. Only Junius (in the front passenger seat) was critically hurt. His spinal cord was ruptured in the C3 (neck) area and he awakened from a coma essentially paralyzed from the shoulders down. The story of his recovery is complex. The story of his transition from the hospital bed to his becoming the first African American coach in the history of wheelchair basketball has a lot of moving parts as well.

In 1957, Junius was well enough (both physically and emotionally) to look outside of himself and start a new life. He had to accept some things no one should have to accept. He realized he would never be able to walk again, let alone play basketball or even to hold a basketball. But he could coach, and as coach of the Pan Am Jets, he could travel the world with Pan Am World Airways and make a profound impact on the relatively new sport of wheelchair basketball.

I have come across several customs forms showing Junius entering various ports of call. This one, dated July 29, 1958, must have been one of the first trips. He was a coach by then, and was navigating a pre-ADA world where he had to be carried onto planes, into cars, up stairs and curbs. The pre-ADA world was a demeaning world.

My guess is that this trip was to the U.K. and the Stoke-Mandeville games. Who knows what challenges he encountered? What I also know in reading between the lines of certain critiques of Junius’ coaching, was an underlying current of racism. It was a pre-ADA world and it was also a pre-civil rights world.

The customs form is a badge of courage from nearly 60 years ago. I see it as a rather common remnant of a noble life.

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