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Boise State Legacy Project honoring accomplishments, history of school's first Black athletes

Bronco legends from decades past will tell you, success is rooted in a long and storied history of athlete acceptance and outreach from the university.

BOISE, Idaho — Before The Blue, before Fiesta Bowls, before the growing success on the hardwood, came the legacy that helped pave the way for Boise State Athletics. The door to the past shows us the significance of the road traveled.

Bronco legends from decades past will tell you, success is rooted in a long and storied history of athlete acceptance and outreach from the university. Especially for Black athletes in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, who were not accepted the same way that they were at Boise State.

“There must have been something good about the community and our experience for us to make a decision to stay in some cases raise our families,” Mike Campbell, co-founder of the Boise State Legacy Project said.

Campbell played football for Boise State in the early 1970s. Now, he and a team of former Broncos are working to profile the accomplishments and history of the first Black athletes at the university as part of the Boise State Legacy Project. 

As Campbell explains, the experience Black athletes had at Boise State in the 70’s and 80’s was very different than other places.

“The community and the university really pulled together and understood the importance of welcoming all athletes from all races, and that very positive things can come out of that when people are treated respectfully," Campbell said.

Athletes like Bronco basketball standout Trent Johnson said their experiences at Boise State in the 70’s set them up for success on and off the court. It is a much different experience than some athletes had in other parts of the country, where they received less resources and unfair treatment because of the color of their skin.

“It wasn't about black or white or whatever we were in Boise, Idaho," Johnson said. "It was that you had opportunity, any educational opportunity to play a sport. And then obviously the numbers were few might have been 15 guys or twelve guys on a football team or three of us on a basketball team. But I have lifelong friends through the sport that are white and black and that my experience there is catapulted me into whatever success I've had after Boise State."

Success on and off the playing surface has been clear for the legacy group. Former athletes went on to contribute to the Boise community and beyond in a huge variety of fields.

Booker Brown played basketball for the Broncos from 1971 to 1973. He said his experience at Boise State helped set the stage for the rest of his life. Brown even made sure to mention to then Governor Cecil Andrus that Boise and Idaho were very special places.

“As we look at these profiles that we gathered, every single one of them, it was, you can see the progression. That each individual made to better himself,” Brown said. “I would tell Mr. (Cecil) Andrus that I'm the biggest promoter of Boise, Idaho, that you could ever, ever imagine.”

In recent years, Black athletes from major college athletic programs have spoken about how they feel they are treated. Many highlight systemic issues that take advantage of Black athletes. In light of calls or change at major universities, the team at the Boise State Legacy Project thought it was important to highlight the positive experiences they had at Boise state. It is important to remember our history and how we got here today.

“I didn't really see black or white. What I saw was an opportunity to play basketball and an opportunity to get an education,” Carl Powell, a Bronco basketball player in the late 70’s said.

Powell said the opportunity to get a quality education at Boise State as a Black student athlete was crucial for his future success.

“I came in to Boise State with some short giving’s in terms of education. I didn’t have the foundation that I needed," Powell said. "The professors there, not all, but a majority of the professors there at Boise State were there to help us."

A set of beautiful displays at the Idaho Black History Museum profile more than 25 Black athletes that helped pave the way for future athletes. The stories tie in with a major theme at the museum, a seat at the table.

“Idaho provided and afforded blacks an opportunity that was denied them elsewhere and that a history has just not been told," Phillip Thompson, the Executive director of the Idaho Black History Museum said. "And if we don't get credit for it and it's time that we actually stand up and say, Hey, wait a minute, we haven't done everything wrong. We need not vilify everybody. Idaho really had some remarkable things going on."

Thompson’s grandfather, Aurelius Buckner, was the first Black football player in school history. Thompson said the inclusion and treatment of Black athletes through the 70's and 80's benefitted the entire community as a whole.

“Change the fabric of Boise as a city, and I don't care what you think personally, once you actually have relationships with somebody that you deem the other," Thompson said. "It tends to change your perspective a bit. You start to respect him as a human."

Andy Scoggin serves on the Idaho Black History Museum advisory board. He said the Boise State Legacy Project is a perfect intersection of history and the theme of a seat at the table.

“These are people who really had an impact during their time at Boise State University, on the university, on their fellow students, athletes, teachers, coaches, and it's great to be able to remember the legacies that they had left here and what they went on to do afterwards,” Scoggin said.

For the team leading the Boise State Legacy Project, Mike Campbell, Trent Johnson, Booker Brown, and Carl Powell, the project is a way to open a door to the past and to acknowledge the unique experiences Black athletes had and the legacy that helped everyone build.

“Just some really amazing accomplishments of these guys that we highlighted in the project," Campbell said. "We just want it to have those things exposed, recognize and establish a legacy of the black athletes that were the early arrivals at Boise and helped lay that foundation for the school to expand their recruiting and further into the metropolitan areas."

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