Oct. 31, 2011
Last winter when the Navy Midshipmen were polled by their coaches to name a new pair of captains, the easy choice for the defense was Jabaree Tuani.
“The perfect defensive captain,” his once and again teammate, in high school and at the Naval Academy, Mason Graham declared.
Not that it mattered as they cast their votes, nonetheless his fellow Mids paid Tuani the same level of respect he earned in his prior life as a student attending at a small, private school near Nashville, Tenn. There, at Brentwood Academy, the popular Tuani was elected the school’s first African-American class president.
“I was at a predominantly white high school, but it didn’t bother me at all,” Tuani says. “I got to know everybody on a personal level.”
They, including Graham, did the same; ignoring the meaningless obvious for the only thing that matters when judging another. It was no different four years later.
And no surprise. The Midshipmen were here in the first place because of the content of their character. From the shades of their skin to the syllables forming their family names, they’re representative of an increasingly diverse Academy.
Descendants of the Far East, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and numerous other latitudes and longitudes, they consider themselves a Brotherhood. As teammates, race and ethnicity are irrelevant.
They serve under a Commander-In-Chief, Barack Obama, who is our first African-American president. Often they train inside a state-of-the-art facility named in honor of the Academy’s first black graduate, Wesley Brown.
More than any other player, save for fellow captain Alexander Teich, Tuani speaks for them. His is the voice that resonates from their locker room to Bancroft Hall to the ears of those outside Academy walls. He is their team leader in a 21st Century Annapolis.
But less than a half century ago, this was a very different place and Navy football had a very different look, because the Mids all looked the same.
While Brown graduated in the Class of ’49, it wasn’t until 1964 -- 17 years after Jackie Robinson debuted with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers - that a player of color played for the Blue and Gold.
Recently, Tuani was quizzed about that football predecessor, a son of the South, who blazed a trail to Annapolis. An inquiring mind wanted to know if he’d ever heard of Calvin Huey. Tuani had not.
In fairness -- and full disclosure -- neither had the individual who posed the question; at least not until the most recent week or two of a 15-year tenure covering the Midshipmen. Nor had his broadcast partner from the Navy Radio Network, Omar Nelson, a ’97 grad and former USNA instructor particularly close to many players of the last decade.
The same was true in May 2008, when Frank Simmons returned to his alma mater for the dedication of the Wesley Brown Field House. Recognizing a prominent member of the Mids, Simmons pulled the young man aside and asked: Do you know who Calvin Huey is?
As with Tuani, Nelson and this writer; if Huey’s name rang a bell, the significance of the man and his accomplishments didn’t quite reverberate. That’s when Simmons made it his mission to educate the rest of us about Huey, as well as Emerson Carr; two individuals as important as any in Navy football history.
Simmons was commissioned with the Class of ’68. When he entered the Academy, blacks within the Brigade included three seniors, no juniors and two sophomores. He was one of seven minority plebes, among the four to graduate.
Working as a program manager for SAIC, the Fortune 500 defense and security contractor headquartered in McLean, Va., Simmons recently found time to act in the names of Huey and Carr.
“One day at work, a couple of months ago, I thought, ‘This is the day I’m going to do it,’” Simmons said. “Today I’m going to send an email to (Chet) Gladchuk.’”
His message to the Academy’s athletic director led to the words that follow, about two men whose college choices are watersheds in the 131-year history of Navy football.
Calvin Windell Huey grew up in Pascagoula, Miss. He was 19 years old when U.S. Marshals were ordered to his home state to enforce a federal court order allowing black student James Meredith to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
Influenced by uncles who schooled him in math, and a mother who enrolled him in summer programs at Historically Black Colleges, Huey was a gifted student. He was especially interested in science, specifically chemistry.
“My hope after high school was to go the University of Chicago, Ohio State or Wisconsin,” Huey recently said from his Annapolis home, before laughing. “Unfortunately, I didn’t know you needed money to go to those schools.”
He attended Tuskegee briefly, but left to join a friend at Oakland City College in California. Leaving the segregated South to go West, Huey was eventually lured East.
At Oakland, he was honorable mention junior college All-America as a quarterback. Recognizing Huey’s aptitude and athleticism, a friend suggested he pursue a service academy appointment.
Huey contacted Mississippi representatives. As you’d expect, he was immediately denied. One congressman, he remembers, reasoned that he didn’t want Huey “to be a stain on Mississippi.”
Undeterred, he instead got a California representative to nominate him; not as a football recruit, but solely on his own accord. In fact, Huey says he had no contact with Navy’s coaching staff before trying out for the team as a plebe.
Contrastingly, Emerson Frank Carr was being courted by all three academies, and numerous other programs, while enrolled at Central High in Minneapolis.
“I was the biggest guy on our team,” says the 6-foot-3 Carr, whose media guide bio listed him as a 235-pound defensive end entering his senior season with the Mids. “And I’m proud to say, also the fastest. I used to beat our receivers in wind sprints.”
West Point, which wouldn’t suit up its first African-American player until 1966, was the first to call on Carr. But yearning to fly, he was more interested in the Naval Academy.
A year after Huey reached Annapolis, Carr followed, becoming the first black Minnesotan to attend a service academy.
Hailing from the North Country, Carr makes light of his mostly pale surroundings in the Twin Cities.
“I went to what was considered a predominantly black school in Minneapolis, (but only) 20 percent of the students were black kids,” Carr says, before showing off his sense of humor. “You could also say the non-Scandinavians were the minorities. I thought the whole world was made up of Andersons and Johnsons.”
Regardless, Minnesota was very progressive. Unlike the city of Annapolis, where public schools remained segregated until 1966, more than a decade after Brown v. Board of Education. Carr found certain restaurants and movie theaters off limits.
On the other hand, Huey was accustomed to such racial demarcations. Sitting below the Mason-Dixon Line, Annapolis was, he remembers, “very much like Mississippi.”
Huey makes the comparison absent the slightest tinge of bitterness or resentment. Same goes for Carr.
Though outside the Academy, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Inside, Huey and Carr were simply trying to succeed as midshipmen.
“The March on Washington took place during my plebe summer,” Huey recalls. “I didn’t know it occurred until a year after.”
That’s because he concerned himself only with what he needed to know to satisfy the demands of upperclassmen. If skin color subjected either to extra harassment, neither was aware of it.
Huey actually thinks he had it easier than most by trying out and making the basketball team, as well as the football squad. Sports enabled him to dine with teammates, instead of answering to older shipmates.
“I think I pretty much had a free ride by being an athlete,” he says. “I wasn’t dumped on as much as other midshipmen because I was playing sports. I had no trouble until the end of the year, because I ate at the training table for football and basketball. I joke that I had a two-week plebe year.”
More than likely, fellow mids simply reciprocated the way Huey conducted himself.
“It was important for me to be as respectful as possible,” he says, “and try to be an exemplary midshipman and person.”
“I don’t think I was treated differently than anyone else,” adds Carr, who was too busy making history to consider his place in it. “After the fact, one of the things you became aware of is being a trailblazer.
“The people who really pulled me through are my classmates. My classmates treated me like one of them.”
Coaches did too, namely three assistants. Carr remains thankful for the tutelage of Carl Schuette; the way Lee Corso “took (him) under his wing;” and the equal-opportunity demands of Steve Belichick.
To Belichick, the only time to see anything as black or white was on the practice field. Things were either done right or wrong; no in-between. But there was one problem that still causes Carr to chuckle: Belichick could be too indiscriminate. Sometimes, players couldn’t distinguish among themselves.
“Steve had the ability to look at the entire field and see everyone at the same time,” Carr explains. “He was the linebackers coach. He would be yelling at someone during practice, but we weren’t sure who he was yelling at. You couldn’t tell from his eyes. We’d turn to each other as players and ask, ‘Who’s he talking to? Was that you or me he was talking to?’”
There was little to nitpick about Carr. In Navy’s 1968 media guide, Schuette said Carr had “exceptional talent, speed and quickness...all the attributes to be one of the East’s leading defenders.” His words held true when Carr was invited to the East-West Shrine Game.
Meanwhile, Huey was singled out in his senior-year bio for “poise under fire,” as “an outstanding pass receiver and determined downfield blocker.” Though a quarterback at heart, he moved to receiver to become a catching complement to the passing of Roger Staubach.
In the autobiography Staubach: First Down, Lifetime to Go, the ’63 Heisman Trophy winner wrote: “Calvin Huey was just the kind of guy you liked. He had a great personality, worked hard in football and was an intelligent guy.”
Smart in the classroom, Huey was also savvy on the field.
Shrewd enough, at least, to improvise what for a fleeting moment or two had the makings of one of Staubach’s most memorable plays.
Facing a late deficit vs. Maryland in 1964, Huey subbed for one of Staubach’s favorite targets, Skip Orr. As the clock eclipsed the 3:00 mark, Huey caught a 10-yard touchdown pass for the lead.
“I actually called that play,” Huey says. “Roger would sprint out to the right and the Maryland defense would flow with him. I suggested he do a half roll, and throw back to me.”
Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath, Ken Ambrusko’s 101-yard kickoff return lifted the Terrapins to a 27-22 victory.
“On the ensuing kickoff, my classmate Bob Havasy fell and hurt his knee,” Huey says of his good friend. “Whenever I see him, I joke that I would have been a hero if he hadn’t gotten hurt.”
Punchlines aside, Huey was already heroic. Not by making touchdowns, but by creating touchstones for future generations.
The following year, as a junior in his final season of eligibility, he became the first African-American to take the field at Georgia Tech. Though Navy fell, 37-16, Huey’s monumental afternoon in Atlanta was incident free. Interestingly, the only insults he remembers hearing in a game were hurled much farther to the North, at Penn State.
Likewise, there were times Carr stood apart from teammates and opponents alike.
“We played at a number of Southern schools,” he says. “Often I was the only black player on the field. It’s not something you think about while you’re playing.”
Only decades later. Like when Huey reflects on the game he cherishes most as a Midshipman.
“Army was the most incredible experience,” says Huey, despite the apparent emptiness of a loss and a tie in two varsity appearances opposite an arch rival. “It was the shortest game of my life. It goes so fast.
“I think the Army-Navy game is the thing I’m most proud of. You’re on the field and you know that countless eyes are looking at you.”
Imagine what it must have been like seeing Navy’s lonesome end in America’s game. Especially for people still denied basic rights
Less than a year earlier, states ratified the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing payment of poll or other taxes intended to marginalize blacks during federal elections. Just five months earlier, Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
And fewer than four months earlier, the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were found buried together; weeks after they disappeared while protesting, as part of the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
“There was a lot going on in the 60s in the Civil Rights Movement,” says Carr, who originally was a year behind Huey but later spent another full year away. “I went to Annapolis before black people could vote in Mississippi.”
And now, if you will, picture the misguided congressman worried about Huey leaving a stain on the state of his birth. How might he react were he to learn what became of Huey? Or, for that matter, someone like Carr?
They are men of distinction less for what they did as football players than for what they’ve accomplished since.
Huey graduated in 1967, and was eventually assigned to the USS Perry in Mayport, Fla. Before long, he deployed on the first of his two tours of Vietnam. He then continued his education until earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry.
In 1973, he joined the faculty at the Naval Academy, combining classroom instruction with coaching what’s now known as ‘sprint football.’ Back in Huey’s day, it was ‘lightweight’ or ‘150’ ball. By any name, he thoroughly enjoyed it.
After his third year back, former teammate Tom Leiser persuaded Huey to join him at IBM. He remained with Big Blue until 1997, when health problems resulted in a kidney transplant. Fourteen years later, Huey’s nephew donated a kidney for a second transplant.
Carr also has endured health problems since transitioning seamlessly from military service to civilian success.
He fulfilled his lifelong goal to fly, piloting an A-6 Intruder and C-130 Hercules in the Marine Corps. Among his closest friends is ex-squadron mate Major General Charles Bolden, USMC. Bolden graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968, 41 years before becoming NASA Administrator.
An engineer, Carr retired as a Captain and joined General Motors in 1984. In year six, he was promoted to global operations manager for the company’s subsidiary AC Spark Plug, overseeing more than 4,000 employees in North America and Europe.
Much of Carr’s post-military life was spent in Michigan, though he briefly lived in England, where he also studied at Oxford. But by 2004, he moved to Silver Spring, Md. and was a partner in a consulting firm.
Back in the Detroit area on business, Carr was driving to an early-morning meeting when his vehicle was hit by a semi-trailer.
“It was,” he says, “as serious as it gets.”
For two months Carr was on a ventilator. His rehab continued for weeks thereafter, only to be set back significantly by a staph infection. He suffered multiple heart attacks, received a pacemaker and redoubled his rehabilitation program.
However grave his situation, Carr fought through it. At one point, his doctor at the Beaumont Trauma Center in Royal Oak, Mich. approached Carr’s wife, Anita, to detail her husband’s background. According to Carr, his medical team was astounded that he survived.
“‘He’s been trained to fight and survive,’” says Carr, repeating the doctor’s line upon learning of the Marine’s remarkable career. “‘That’s the reason he’s going to make it.’
“Going to the Naval Academy and being in the Marine Corps can have that impact. It impacts you in ways you don’t realize.”
One of the ways most obvious to both Huey and Carr is the ceaseless support each receives from classmates, as he wages his battle against health problems. For Carr, the fight includes a bout with lung cancer.
“The Naval Academy creates bonds that last for a lifetime,” says Carr.
They include ties to successors such as Tuani, who expresses a desire to learn more about the men who opened the door for African-American players in Annapolis.
“I definitely would like to find out more, knowing the adversity those guys had to face,” Tuani says. “They didn’t let it bother them...Nothing could have told those men to quit. I couldn’t imagine not being able to hang out with my friends in public places.”
Not so long ago, the idea of a black kid from Mississippi attending the Naval Academy was unimaginable too. Except to Calvin Huey.
“It makes me proud,” Huey says. “I don’t brag about, I cherish it. My wife (Deborah) brags about it.”
Chuckling, Huey describes how he is is still recognized in Pascagoula. There’s a Hall of Fame inside the technical school that replaced his old high school. He’s included, of course; a plaque there denotes his Academy achievement.
Both Huey and Carr came to Annapolis seeking a higher education, and willing to answer a higher calling to a country whose citizens stood on uneven ground.
By attaining the former and fulfilling the latter, they did their part to impact the Civil Rights Movement in ways they probably didn’t realize at the time. All these years later, it’s about time we all realize it.
“Every African-American my age was affected by Martin Luther King and the struggles of people who died, like four little girls in church on a Sunday morning,” says Carr, alluding to the Sept. ’63 bombing of a Birmingham church. “You have to be impacted (by that). I wasn’t riding the bus, but I was doing something other black people weren’t doing.”
“In a very small way, yeh,” Huey replied, his voice breaking up, after being asked if he made a difference for other African-Americans. ”It gave people hope they could do the same thing.”