Visitors to the Falls Church Community Center last week commemorated Black History Month at the fourth annual Black History Celebration and Celebrity Basketball Game, sponsored by Falls Church’s Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.
The foundation fosters awareness of Falls Church’s historic post-Civil War African-American community and the creation of the first rural chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Members of the foundation and guests conducted a pre-game panel discussion in the Community Center’s Senior Center.
With the theme “Remembering John ‘Boy Wonder’ Isaacs; Basketball Pioneer Extraordinaire,” this year’s panel remembered Isaacs, the foundation’s 2008 recipient of the Living Legacy award and a participant in last year’s panel on the history of African-American basketball leagues.
Isaacs, 93, passed away on Jan. 26. He left behind a legendary record as a player for the Harlem Renaissance, or the Rens, a Depression-era basketball team in New York City.
Isaacs had also crafted a prolific career in basketball for over 70 years touching hundreds of lives on the court and in communities nationwide. A panelist described Isaacs as “a doctor of the soul” for his work as a volunteer for 50 years at Boys and Girls Clubs.
“I refer to him as my colleague, my mentor and my friend,” said panelist Susan Rayl, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at the State University of New York at Cortland.
Rayl spoke of her work alongside Isaacs, and how the basketball legend impacted her own career.
Isaacs’ involvement in basketball and popularizing African-American participation in sport led Rayl to write her dissertation on African-American culture and history of sport.
Rayl also shared details of the close relationship she cultivated with the sports legend, one sustained with numerous visits and phone conversations. “When I called John, I was prepared to do nothing else for the next one to two hours,” Rayl said to laughter from fellow panelists and the 10 to 15 audience members.
“Because of the Rens,” said Rayl, “we have the Harlem Globetrotters.”
In addition to sharing tales of Isaacs’ life and memories, the panel distributed different media and news clippings of Isaacs’ historic career, as well as provided a display that shared more details and images of Isaacs’ life.