by Hal Lamar
North Carolina A&T running back Micheal Basnight became the 21st recipient of the coveted Jake Gaither award. Basnight was presented the huge trophy during the 64th annual all-sports banquet of the Atlanta based 100% Wrong Club Saturday night, January 30.
The Wrongers also named Southern University their mythical national black college football champs and Pete Richardson as the coach of the year.
The "Gaither", established 21 years ago by the club as the equivalent to the Heisman trophy for players from an historically black college, was named for the late Alonzo S "Jake" Gaither, longtime head football coach and Athletic Director at Florida A&M. Until his death in the early 90s, Gaither was brought to Atlanta by the Wrongers to personally present the honor.
Basnight, who had earlier received the award as co-offensive player of the year from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), paid tribute to Walter Peyton by reading a poem he had written. Peyton.who was honored by the Wrongers some 25 years ago this year after graduation from Jackson State, disclosed last week that he needed a liver transplant.
Basnight beat out some formidable competition for the Gaither which included acclaimed quarterbacking sensation Patrick Bonner of Florida A&M, Virginia State's Damon Thompson, Morris Brown wide receiver Brelon Jones and Jackson State's Sylvester "Cat" Morris. "Y'all surprised me, " said Basnight on his second trip to the dais. "Thank you. I'm speechless."
Basnight now joins 20 other Gaither winners, many of whom have distinguished themselves in professional football. In fact, two of the past winners, Jerry Rice and Richard Dent, became MVPs of Super Bowls. The Heisman has only been able to boast of that as of SuperBowl XXXIII when Denver's John Elway was named MVP. The only other Heisman winner who was named a Super Bowl MVP was former Oakland Raider quarterback Jim Plunkett.
The Gaither was but one of a plethora of accolades doled out by the Wrongers who got started back in 1934 as a gathering of sports lovers who shared predictions on football games. Because their convener Rick Roberts, then editor of the Atlanta Daily World, often chided them for getting their predictions " 100% Wrong, " he decided to challenge his prognosticating friends to make their predictions public. Beginning with the 1934 college football season, the membership of just over a dozen men made their predictions which were published in Friday's paper. Monday, the results were posted. Tabulations were kept and the Wrong member with the largest number of "right" predictions would be rewarded at a season-ending gala usually limited to the members and their wives or dates.
By 1947, Marion E Jackson, then the paper's sports editor, suggested that their season ending party be broadened to include honors for black college and black professional athletes. Since then, more and more were added to the programs and now, amateur and professional athletes at nearly every category and of every race and gender are honored.
The club also bestows honors on sports pioneers. This year's award went to Jackie Smith, recognized as one of only two women boxing promoters in the country. The Jacksonville Florida native and graduate of Grambling College credits promoter Don King with providing her the break she needed. Taking a leap of faith, she walked away from a relatively secure job with Delta Airlines and was immediately named the local promoter for the Evander Holyfield-Vaughn Bean fight.
The club also bestowed honors on Atlanta Falcon Coach Ken Reeves and running back Jamal Anderson, University of Georgia quarterback Quincy Carter, Georgia Tech signal caller Joe Hamilton and University of Tennessee quarterback T Martin.
Martin, who attended despite undergoing surgery the day before, paid a tribute to former Tennessee quarterback Conridge Holloway, the first African American to quarterback in the SEC. " He paved the way for me and Joe and Quincy to play quarterback, " he said.