Inside Hotlanta and the SIAC
By Hal Lamar
Leonard "8 Ball" King, Unsung hero of Pro football, laid to rest June 3
I doubt that Atlanta native Leonard King, known by colleagues, close friends, fans and family as "eight-ball", will ever get the plaudits he deserves. But this writer, who I consider blessed to have known and worked with him, will do my best in these few paragraphs I will write to give him his just desserts.
King passed away May 20 of this year at age 85. He was the son of a preacher man, Jim King and his mother, Mattie Hood King. He attended Booker T Washington High school and played football on the Bulldog's 1951 undefeated elevens which only surrendered points to one opponent, their arch-rival David T Howard High school, 14-6. It is during his prep years that he reportedly got his nickname. Some say that L.C. Baker, the legendary head grid coach at BTW for 36 years pinned the moniker on him. "Coach had a penchant for tagging players with nicknames, "said one former player. Others, however, said King earned the name after becoming a so called "expert" among friends at playing the popular billiard game, eight ball.
After high school, King entered the US Army's 11th Airborne division, based primarily in Germany. Upon discharge, he returned to Atlanta and enrolled at Morris Brown College, obtaining a Bachelor's degree in mathematics. He also returned to his job at Lockheed Aircraft (now Lockheed-Martin) and, while employed there, studied nights at John Marshall Law School and obtained his law degree. In 1961, King met and married the former Julia Dunn who had only recently transferred to Morris Brown after studying for two years at Tennessee State.
King was a staunch supporter of both his high school and college alma mater and often told me he rarely missed a game, especially the annual Thanksgiving tilt between the Wolverines and cross-campus rival Clark (now Clark-Atlanta University). "I would buy two suits that weekend," he told me during one of our chats at Paschal's, a popular restaurant and gathering spot which was later changed to a McDonald's restaurant in southwest Atlanta. "I'd wear one (suit) to the game and another when we went out afterward, usually to the Royal Peacock (a popular nightspot on historic Auburn Avenue)," he said.
King never strayed far from his love of sports, especially football. While at Lockheed, he moonlighted as a football and basketball official on both the high school and college level. A chance meeting in 1972 with Atlanta businessman William (Bill) Putnam resulted in King's hire as director of player personnel with the Birmingham Americans, one of 13 teams of the fledgling World Football League.
King made history too as one of a bare handful of African-Americans in the front office of any professional football franchise. He also created a tryout camp for wanna-be team members held in Atlanta and attracted, among the 300 who showed up, a Morris Brown grad and Georgia native (Hogansville) named Alfred Jenkins. King actually convinced Jenkins to try out and the results proved fruitful for both. Jenkins, who eventually would become an all-pro wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons, became one of the WFL's initial superstars.
The Americans' camp actually became the precursor to a camp for all comers King started after the WFL folded. Although a 1985 article in the Washington Post downplayed such free agent tryout camps, King's venture became one of the more successful of its type in the United States and was held every year for nearly 20 years, attracting several hundred players and over a dozen NFL and Canadian Football leagues. Despite the newspaper article, one scout from the former St Louis (now Artizona) Cardinals, told this writer in 1982 that being at the King camp every year was on his must-do list. "You don't want to miss out on a player who might be there and he wind up on an opponent's roster and come back to haunt you." (Those type camps, in effect, did produce diamonds in the rough. At such a tryout camp he held in 1972 by George Allen's Washington Redskins, an Atlanta product and this writer's former high school classmate, Herbert Mulkey made the grade from over 300 potentials who showed up and was on the 1973 'Skins team that went to Super Bowl 7.
When King retired from active sports participation in the 1990s, he continued to keep a hand-in by helping to organize the southwest Atlanta over 40 softball league which plays weekend games at the Othello "Chico" Renfroe softball field inside Washington Park on the city's westside. He and wife Julia also became active at the Harriett Darnell Senior Center ( named for the mother of the late Fulton County Commissioner and one time Atlanta city administrator Emma Darnell under Mayor Maynard Jackson) with "Eight Ball" hosting a Football 101 class for ladies interested in learning more about the sport to allow them to enjoy it with their husbands and sweethearts on weekends. King was also hired by this writer as a color analyst for Atlanta University center and SIAC cable TV broadcasts in the early 1980s. Even in his declining years and dependence on a wheel chair for movements, he joined the gang of 'old timers" mornings at McDonald's to discuss sports, politics and other debatable issues for hours.
Not surprisingly, his homegoing gravesite service June 3 attracted many friends, former teammates, retired Lockheed workers and ex-WFL and NFL players. The responses and reactions were numerous. "A final salute to a man of many talents who did it his way, on and off the field, " said Atlanta native Artie Cobb, an officiating colleague. " I have fond memories of Mr King, " said neighbor Cheryl Alexander. "His daughter Kim was the first friend I made in our neighborhood. Later in life, I had the opportunity to be (King's) co-worker when we both taught math at (the former) Turner High School of Atlanta. He truly loved helping youth, especially those aspiring to achieve in athletics. Rest in heaven, Mr. King. A life well lived."
Editors note: In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to Morris Brown College's division of institutional advancement. The website address is morrisbrown.edu
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