Ronald B . Saunders Project
Saunders ArchivesMarch 16, 2012
|Note that the above gold medal was for capturing first place in the 200 yard Freestyle Relay. I did receive a third place bronze medal in the 75 yard Individual Medley. However that medal is presently missing. The Individual Medley consisted of three strokes: butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle. In the championship meet, I was in a virtual tie in the backstroke with a swimmer from Oliver Junior High, but he beat me by a gnat's eyelash for second place which resulted in me getting the bronze medal for third place. Nate Clark, my former Herron Hill and Centre Avenue YMCA teammate, came in first place in the 75 yard Individual Medley swimming for Knoxville Junior High School. Nate and his brother Frank who also swam for Herron Hill and the YMCA had moved from the Hill District to the Beltzhoover section of the city. None of our team members on those back to back championship teams went into any event thinking our opponents could beat us. The championship meet was held at Allegheny High School on the Northside and many members of the Herron Hill student body attended the meet and cheered our team on to victory. I do recall that Mary Ann Mickey, Linda Sales and the late Ida Joyce Sharp were three of the people in attendance at that championship meet.|
Note: our same Freestyle Relay team that won the City Championship also won the State YMCA Freestyle Relay Championship as indicated in the above article.
The Herron Hill Junior High School swimming teams from 1954 to 1957 were the best Black swimming teams ever. As stated in a previous posting, our '54 and '55 team featured Nate Clark who was the first African American to score in an NCAA Championship in swimming by taking fifth place in the 200 Meter Butterfly in 1962 while swimming for the Ohio State University who won the NCAA Title that same year. Note there were other Herron Hill swimming teams that won back to back championships in the 1940's and 1950's. We give a great deal of the credit to the excellent coaches at the Centre Avenue YMCA in Pittsburgh, PA: Walker Crocker, Terence Garmon who was Aquatic Director and swimming coach, the NBA's Ed Fleming from Westinghouse High School who taught me the butterfly with the dauphin kick, and assistant coach Sid Bergman who all helped to develop these champion caliber swimmers for Herron Hill Junior High School, Schenley High School, Knoxville Junior High School, South Hills High School, Central State University and the Ohio State University. Other swimmers on the Herron Hill swim teams ('54 through '57) may have swum for other high schools, colleges and universities. We swam many miles each day with and without the flutter kick boards. We were all dedicated young men who would arise at 4:30 in the morning to walk in pitch blackness, in all types of inclement weather to make our 6:00 a.m. swimming practice sessions each day of the week. None of us missed a day of practice and that was the reason we were back to back champions. Sometimes we practiced after school as well.
One day in 2007, at the Reverend Floyd Palmer's Barber Shop on Frankstown Avenue in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Ron Curry (Head) and I decided that we should make an effort to have a reunion celebrating our 1957 championship swimming team at Herron Hill Junior High School. We were successful in organizing the event which was held on September 29, 2007 at Duranti's Restaurant in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Team members in attendance were: Morris Fountain from Houston, Texas, Melvin Russell from New York City, Daniel Tabb who is living in Pittsburgh, Ronald Curry and Ronald Saunders both of Pittsburgh. Team members' family and the general public were also present. Ron Curry's daughter, Brooke Spencer put together an excellent anniversary brochure outlining the program, history and bios of each team member.
The program consisted of a dinner with Reverend Dr. Johnnie Monroe, pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church giving the invocation. Mrs. Sarah Martin, an educator from the Pittsburgh Public Schools, representing Superintendent Roosevelt's office was the guest speaker. Mrs. Martin gave an in depth historical lesson on Black people swimming dating back to the ancient Egyptians to enslaved Africans running away from southern plantations to Black people swimming across the English Channel to present day. Mrs. Martin made it perfectly clear that swimming was always a part of Black culture from our days in Africa and elsewhere around the globe including the Americas. Mrs. Martin read a special proclamation from the Superintendent's office which commemorated our 1956-1957 championship team.
Ron Curry was instrumental in obtaining from Allegheny County Council Member William Russell Robinson, Certificates of Recognition which honored the achievements of each individual team member of the Herron Hill Jr. High School Swimming Team (1956-1957). It was stated in the certificate that each individual swimmer's "achievement conferred honor upon the County to be shared by each of us and, for that, we commend you". Ron Curry presented each team member an enclosed glass plaque which was constructed by his daughter, Brooke Spencer. The plaque contained a copy of the announcement of the 50th Anniversary Celebration, two excerpts from the Pittsburgh Courier, one reporting on our victorious championship win and the other about the YMCA swimmers winning in the Freestyle Relay in the State YMCA Meet. An embroidered Championship "H" was also included on the plaque. Ron Saunders presented each team member with a wooden red and gold lettered plaque commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Herron Hill Junior High School capturing the Pittsburgh Public Junior High School Swimming Championship in 1957. The plaque honored the individual member along with the names of the other team members, the coach and the manager. Ron Saunders also gave each team member in attendance a gold anniversary medal which highlighted our 1956-1957 championship team. Each team member reflected on what the 1956-1957 championship meant to him and gave a brief update of his life's work since he started his professional career. Ron Curry and Ron Saunders gave closing remarks with the benediction being given by Rev. Monroe.
On a personal note, I have not seen my teammates, Melvin Russell, Pomroy Fountain and Hubert Wilson since 1957 and I had only seen Morris Fountain once which was in 1970 at a party with his wife. I have seen Daniel Tabb on and off. Donald Primus is deceased. One of our team members, Pomroy Fountain was unable to attend our 50th Anniversary Celebration because he is a member and Ghost Dancer with the Crow First American tribe in Montana.
In reference to the above newspaper article by New Pittsburgh Courier reporter, Christian Morrow, I am quoted as saying we were all ninth graders. But in fact, there was a seventh grader on the team by the name of Hubert PeeWee Wilson who presently lives in California and was unable to attend. All efforts to contact our legendary Coach
Geasa's family were unsuccessful. Coach Geasa's teams at Herron Hill Junior High won back to back championships in 1945-1946, 1946-1947, 1950-1951, 1951-1952, 1955-1956 and 1956-1957. Coach Geasa may have been the most successful swimming coach in Pittsburgh Public School history. Our 1956-1957 championship team was the last of Coach Geasa's teams to win a City Championship.
Three team members Pomroy Fountain, Ronald B. Saunders and Daniel Tabb also swam on the Ammon Recreation swimming team which was coached by the great gifted diver Otis Johnson.
* We give special thanks to Brooke Spencer, The New Pittsburgh Courier, and Karen Price sports reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review who wrote an excellent article in the Tribune on September 29, 2007 titled Herron Hill swim team to celebrate milestone.
Gold anniversary medal highlighting the 1957 Herron Hill Jr. High School Championship Team