By Aubrey Bruce, New Pittsburgh Courier:
March 12, 2015 – Last month Pittsburghers of all economic levels, shapes, colors, sizes and genders joined together to commemorate the integration of African Americans as players into the National Basketball Association by former Duquesne University and Boston Celtics standout Chuck Cooper. The annual gathering by the foundation is not held just for the purpose of reminiscing but also to honor and award scholarships to outstanding undergraduate and graduate students throughout the region.
The 2015 scholarships were made possible by corporate sponsorships. Bernadie Jean is a PhD candidate in chemistry and biochemistry and was also a scholarship winner in 2014. Joshua Nyarko is currently a law student at the University of Pittsburgh. Nicole Johnson is enrolled in a five year program in Speech Language Pathology at Duquesne University. Rondell Jordan is also a law student at the University of Pittsburgh. Proving that you are never too old to learn, Shelley Brown is a 50 year-old doctoral candidate in education at Duquesne University. Sylvester Hanner is a PhD student in the Counseling and Education Supervision program at Duquesne University.
In addition to the scholarships that were awarded, the Chuck Cooper Leadership, Diversity and Community Service Award is given to; “a company or individual who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and motivational skills as well as a commitment to promoting diversity and making a positive difference in the community. This year’s recipient of the award was the legendary WNBA star, Swin Cash. Cash was the second pick overall of the 2002 WNBA draft. She is also a six time All-Star who also earned Olympic Gold medals competing for Team USA, in Athens in 2004 and in London in 2010.
WTAE’s Sally Wiggin served as the emcee and as far as lending a personal historical perspective she was the perfect news/sportswoman tapped to be the mistress of ceremonies of the event, primarily because she has co-hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday Night Football pregame coverage along with WTAE sports anchor Andrew Stockey for years, and she knows the ins and outs of the sports world.
Wiggin became genuinely emotional when she discussed the love that her mother had for the Boston Celtics and New England sports teams in general during the time that the NBA began the process of integration. Wiggin took a fond look back on her late mother’s love of sports. “My mother loved all of the Boston teams’. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh people she loved the New England Patriots but she never lived to see them win a championship,” she said. “But of all the Boston teams,’ the Bruins, the Red Sox and the Patriots, the team that she loved the most was the Celtics. I remember she was in love with Bill Russell but she was in love with all of the African American players who were on the team including Chuck Cooper. My mother believed in the rights of people of color,” she said, choking back tears as she recalled her initial experience with the segregated south. “I was 6 years old when we moved from Michigan to Alabama, I remember visiting my father who was in management for Reynolds metals and he was sent to their plant in Northern Alabama. I couldn’t have been more than 6-61/2 years old. I went to drink out of one of the water fountains and one of the workers came over and yelled at my mother and said to her; “how can you let her drink out of that colored water fountain?”
Wiggin laughed as she recalled her mother’s reaction.
“Excuse me?” She remembered her mother saying. “My daughter will drink out of any water fountain that she chooses to because the water is the same.” If one has ever watched the news coverage of Sally Wiggin during her career, one no longer has to wonder where she gets her feistiness from.
Last but certainly not least, the primary honoree of the affair, Swin Cash being from the new millennium of pro basketball players, accepted her leadership, diversity and community service award she admitting not knowing much about Chuck Cooper.
“When I googled him I was kind of shocked that he was the first African American to play in the NBA. You can be the first in something but what he stood for and his commitment to education and to the community and those things that tells a lot about a man’s character.”
Cash pointed out that she is normally cautious when it comes to allowing her brand or name to be used by any business or organization but sitting down and having a conversation with Chuck Cooper III made it easier for her to connect with the organization and its values.
“When I sat down and I looked his son in the eye when he spoke, he was very genuine and authentic about his connection with his father and the reason behind everything that he was doing. That really hit home for me because of everything that I’ve ever done and how tight I am with my family. My mom’s one of twelve, I’m from a huge family and that meant something to me,” Cash said.
As far as being a role model for young women Cash says that is a role that she readily accepts and embraces. “Anytime that I get an opportunity to come back here and be a role model in some regards to young girls and have them see that your home town can honor you even if you don’t play the sport in that city.”
This honorarium represented the memories of the courage of Chuck Cooper leaping over barrier of race. If Wiggin was the perfect emcee for the event, then Cash represented the picture-perfect Chuck Cooper Foundation honoree, both women leaping over the barrier of gender bias while simultaneously increasing the power of women athletes and broadcasters that are rapidly changing the face of sports.
From the New Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 2015. Article: http://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/2015/03/12/cash-wiggins-perfect-fits-for-annual-cooper-awards-luncheon/