One of the best articles ever written about Wilmeth Sidat-Singh appears this morning in the Washington City Paper, as a cover story by sports journalist Dave McKenna titled “The Syracuse Walking Dream: The Most Famous D.C. Athlete You’ve Never Heard Of.”
Here’s an excerpt:
In October 1937, Syracuse University’s undefeated football team traveled to Baltimore to face the Maryland Terrapins. The visitors’ rising star heading into the game was Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, a junior halfback playing his first season of organized football.
Over the next few years, on all sorts of playing fields, Sidat-Singh would build a case for himself as one of the greatest all-around athletes ever to call D.C. home, then he’d die a hero’s death. Evidence of his greatness can still be found in old newspaper clippings and in the memories of the few folks alive who got to see him perform. Yet nothing about Sidat-Singh’s short and brilliant athletic career is more memorable than what he endured in that game with Maryland.
And he didn’t even get to play in it.
Sidat-Singh had come to Syracuse on a basketball scholarship, earned while leading DeWitt Clinton High School to the New York prep finals two years in a row. A Syracuse assistant football coach saw him tossing the pigskin in an intramural game and coaxed the kid into coming out for a second sport.
He’d learned to pass a football on the sandlots of Harlem, where his dad had a medical practice.
“We played football or basketball every day, and Wil was good at everything,” recalls John Isaacs, now 92, a longtime buddy of Sidat-Singh’s. Isaacs’ Textile High beat DeWitt Clinton to win New York’s 1935 prep hoops title. “He always tried to get me to play him in tennis, but there was no way. Baseball, even swimming, anything.”
I mentioned Sidat-Singh in a blog post last week, remembering the anniversary of his tragic accidental death. Sidat-Singh played for the New York Rens and Washington Bears, as well as other top pro basketball teams.
A couple of comments about this piece:
- Syracuse University (the modern day version) deserves another huge shout out for it’s decision to honor Sidat-Singh the way they did;
- Kudos to McKenna for getting that Syracuse didn’t retire Sidat-Singh’s jersey based solely on the merits of his performance in a Syracuse University varsity basketball uniform (wouldn’t it be great if the N.B.A. retired the jerseys of Lloyd, Cooper, and Clifton league-wide … or at least the Knicks with Clifton??);
- McKenna did excellent research and got all aspects of the story straight;
- One can tell how McKenna feels about what happened to Singh, from his own original coloration of what happened, which make this a poignant piece;
- Adding rare first hand quotes from relatives and contemporaries like Hal Jackson and John Isaacs brings the whole thing to life.
Please stop by the Washington City Paper to check out this story, and to leave a comment for Dave McKenna, who deserves a lot of praise for his effort to make history now.