The Extraordinary Life Of A Wheelchair Basketball Hero
Heroism, tragedy and rebirth shaped the extraordinary life of Junius A. Kellogg, a college hoops star who became a successful wheelchair basketball coach and ambassador of the sport following a car accident that left him paralyzed.
Most every reference to Junius Kellogg focuses on a basketball game that took place on January 16, 1951 at Madison Square Garden between Manhattan College and DePaul University. The 6’10” Kellog was Manhattan’s first African-American player and also the team’s top scorer.
Kellogg was approached by a fellow basketball player to influence the point spread of the match in exchange for a cash bribe. It was a mob-rigged scam and instead of going along, the upright young athlete who also feared for the loss of his scholarship, alerted his coach who suggested he contact the police.
Kellog then agreed to go undercover for the District Attorney’s office, touching off an investigation that led to the biggest scandal in the history of college basketball. The Virginia native helped blow the whistle on a game-fixing racket that involved 32 players and 7 schools across the country.
However, the date that really came to define Junius’ life was April 4, 1954. The college hero who twice led the Manhattan Jaspers to the NIT joined the Harlem Globetrotters when his promising career was cut short. He was a passenger in a car that was driving through Arkansas to a ‘Trotters exhibition game when the vehicle blew a tire and went tumbling off the road. Junius was sent into a coma and left with a fractured spine.
A veteran with a short stint in the army before college, he spent time recovering at the Little Rock VA but was then transferred back northeast to the Bronx VA. Paralyzed from the chest down and profoundly dispirited, Kellogg struggled with depression and was comforted and counseled by the Catholic Brothers who had taught him at Manhattan College.
Junius needed a new purpose and that “purpose” came from a polio survivor, Brooklyn-born Saul Welger who was among the first paraplegics to play wheelchair basketball.
Welger played for the Pan Am Jets, a chair-bound squad owned by Pan American World Airways. The Jets were part of the wheelchair basketball league that was founded in the late 1940’s as an athletic distraction and emotional rehabilitation for disabled veterans who returned from WWII.
Pan Am entered the league in 1952 after the company’s controller, John Woodbridge, sold the idea to management as a way of building the corporate brand and helping veterans and polio victims. He went further by recruiting players for jobs in accounting, computer support and reservations.
When the Jets’ first coach quit the team, Welger had an idea: Junius Kellogg. Welger had heard of Kellogg from the scandal, his outstanding play in college and his Globetrotter days. He frequently visited Junius, entreating him to become a coach. At first, Junius refused. He couldn’t admit that his legs would never work again. Finally, he said he would consider.
In November, 1956, the phone rang on the ward for Kellogg. It was Woodbridge, offering Junius the head coaching position with the promise of a job in accounting.
Junius Kellogg became the first African American coach in the history of wheelchair basketball. He was a natural. Three years later, he led the Jets to a national championship and followed-up as a goodwill ambassador for Pan Am.
He had a significant role in introducing the game around the world and along the way, helped write the rules for the sport. In 1964, he guided the U.S. team to a gold medal at the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.
Junius died on September 16, 1998 and is remembered for more than just uncovering college basketball’s most notorious scandal. He showed the world that living with disability can open opportunities and create hope where almost none is left.
Submitted by Bruce H. Wolk, Author of the forthcoming book, “The Man Who Saved Basketball”, the biography of Junius Kellogg. www.brucewolk.com Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
BASEBALL July 13, 2010 The NL beat the AL 3-1 in the All-Stars exhibition game. Held at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, the game was preceded with a short memorial honoring George Steinbrenner who had died early that morning. The AL fielded the likes of Derek Jeter (SS-Yankees), Ichiro Suzuki (OF-Mariners) and Mariano Rivera (P-Yankees), while the AL brought out David Wright (3B-Mets), Albert Pujols (1B-Cardinals) and Roy Halladay (P-Phillies).
SOCCER July 2, 2000 France defeats Italy 2-1 at the UEFA European Championship. It was their 2nd title at the quadrennial extravaganza, which has been held since 1960 to determine the continent’s best national team; Germany and Spain are tied at the top with 3 wins each. One of the most exciting finals in tournament history, France equalized a goal in the closing minute of official time to send the game into overtime and then land a ‘golden goal’ in sudden death.
TENNIS July 7, 1990 Martina Navratilova claims a record 9th Wimbledon singles title after defeating her American opponent, Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1. It was Navratilova’s last career grand slam singles after compiling 17 victories since her first one at Wimbledon in 1978. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in the game, the Czech-born and U.S.-naturalized tennis star was ranked No. 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks, and No. 1 in doubles for a total 237 weeks.
BOXING July 7, 1980 Larry Holmes knocks out Scott LeDoux in the 7th round to retain his WBC Heavyweight title. It was the 35th professional and undefeated bout for the Georgia native who swung one of the fiercest left jabs in boxing history. Holmes battled the greatest heavyweights of his era and he would defeat Muhammad Ali in the 10th round just 3 months after his encounter with LeDoux. The “Easton Assassin” retired in 2002 after posting a career record of 75-69-6.