The University of Texas at El Paso will celebrate am important milestone this Saturday when the men’s basketball team faces Western Kentucky University at the Don Haskins Center.
The Miners expect a sell-out crowd to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic game that gave Texas Western College (as UTEP was known in 1966) the title of NCAA Men’s National Basketball Champions.
El Pasoans are familiar with Glory Road, the story of Haskins’ courageous move to start an all African-American team to go up against an all white team from the University of Kentucky in the NCAA Final. The Miners emerged victorious, and the path toward integration in college athletics was set.
It is worthwhile to celebrate Haskins and his team — Willie Cager, Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Willie Worsley, Jerry Armstrong, Nevil Shed, Louis Baudoin, Harry Flournoy, Dick Myers, David Palacio, Togo Railey and Orsten Artis — for the contributions they made to the game and to bringing equity to college athletics.
But it’s also important to give UTEP due credit for being a forward thinking university.
UTEP’s role in providing opportunities to African-American students started well before the 1966 basketball season. In 1955, Texas Western was the first senior college in the state to desegregate when it welcomed 10 black students without any incident.
And although UTEP has always been a leader in educating students from Mexico, it was thanks to the Chicano movement in the early 1970s — including a noted sit-in on the UTEP campus — that Latino students and faculty began to have more influence and representation in U.S. colleges and universities.
EPISD, too has played a critical role in civil rights. In 1955, a forward-thinking school board of El Paso Public Schools was the first in Texas to vote fully desegregate its campuses.
I encourage all of our teachers to take five minutes of their class time to speak to their students about these important events in our local history. It’s important for our new generations to know that the City of El Paso, and the schools that serve it, have for long been at the forefront of equality and equity.
So as we head into the weekend, I invite everyone at EPISD to wear their best orange gear on Friday to show support for the Miners and the historic contributions they made to athletics and academics.
But moreover, I invite us all to reflect on the role UTEP and El Paso as a whole have played in helping us bring equity for all human beings and opportunities for us all to be successful and happy.