Many of us Detroiters hope that the DPSCD Board will re-name Pershing High for William Joseph (Will) Robinson (1911 – 2008), pictured in the inset between my second & former wife Gina Morris Telford and me in one of the last pictures taken of Will. Or perhaps if Pershing alumni object to a name-change, the Board could name another school for him. Will Robinson became the first African-American coach of a Michigan high school when he came to old Detroit Miller in 1943 and led its basketball teams to city titles (there was no state competition for Detroit schools in the later 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s). Will also coached state champion teams at Pershing and winning teams at Cass Tech. Will was an All-State high school quarterback in Ohio (his 98 percent white football team won the state title), and he was an All-American collegiate quarterback at West Virginia State (his team won the African-American football organization’s national championship). Will was also the first African-American coach of a Division One NCAA basketball team, achieving five winning seasons at Illinois State. He was the first African-American scout in the NFL (Detroit Lions) and the NBA (Detroit Pistons), and he was the first African American executive in the NBA (Pistons–assistant General Manager into his nineties).
Also, Detroit icons Etheline Crockett, M.D., and abolitionist Jared W. Finney–whose names were illegally removed from schools by recent emergency managers without permission of an elected Board–should have their names restored. As for Will Robinson–well, I’ve known that truly great man since 1952 when he and his fellow Miller coaches Leroy Dues and Lorenzo Wright and my Detroit Track Club relay teammate and future Mumford Principal Pete Petross attended the track meet at Denby when my Denby teammates snapped Miller’s streak of 45 wins in track and those four men recruited me to run at Wayne. I also coached with Will for two years in the mid-1960s at Pershing, where my runners were the state’s best in track and Will’s players were the state’s best in basketball. Will and I became lifelong friends, and I wrote his biography. I gave Board President Iris Taylor a copy of that Robinson book for the Board’s library. Will Robinson definitely deserves to have a school named for him. He sent 300 (that’s three HUNDRED) Detroit high school basketball players to college on basketball scholarships, and a full thirty of them went on to play professionally!
Hear poet, author, and former DPS Superintendent John Telford Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. & Mondays at 6:30 p.m. on WCHB AM1340.