Isn’t it time for a promised honor?
10/4/2019, 6 a.m.
Wouldn’t you agree that something is wrong if a top figure at a Richmond university told the world you were going to receive a tremendous honor, but the university never delivered that honor?
That is what happened to me.
In 1974, I was the first black star player on the University of Richmond’s basketball team, and I led the team to its first winning season in 16 years.
We finished 17-12, and even beat archrival William & Mary. Just as importantly, we beat Virginia Tech at the Robins Center. That was huge because Tech went on to win the prestigious National Invitational Tournament by beating Notre Dame, which had earlier halted UCLA’s unprecedented 88-game winning streak.
UR officials were so excited about the basketball results that they did something remarkable. They designated the final game of the regular season as Aron Stewart Day to honor me for enabling the Spiders to break their long string of losing seasons dating back to 1958 and for rewriting the basketball records at the school.
At that game, which drew a sold-out crowd of 7,000, Mac Pitt, then the best known sports figure at the university, “eloquently told one and all that No. 30 would never be worn by another player,” according to the Richmond daily newspaper’s report on the event. UR officials also presented me with an impressive trophy and read a letter from the governor.
But in the 45 years since, as UR has retired the jersey numbers of subsequent top players, the promise that my number would be retired has never been kept. The university quietly repudiated Mr. Pitt’s statement. My number has remained in use even though my scoring average of 28.1 points for the 44 games I played, and my rebounding average of 12 per game, are still unbroken school records. In fact, since UR introduced the game to the campus in 1912, no other player has come close to those records.
It would have been appropriate before I graduated from UR in 1974 for the school to have retired my number. At that time, only one other player, Warren Mills, had his jersey number retired, and he scored fewer points in the 107 games he played than I did in the 44 games I played in for the school.
Still, despite my achievements, UR waited 36 years to include me in its sports Hall of Fame, even though the school previously had inducted players who were not good enough to make the All-Conference teams of their day as I did during my time. The school kept me waiting until even non-graduates began wondering what was going on.
Don’t you think it is finally time for UR to retire my jersey number, too?
Maybe in 1974, retiring the jersey number of an African-American player would have been too radical for a largely white school. But surely enough time has passed so that UR can consider my case on the merits, not on my skin color.
ARON STEWART, Richmond