By JOHN ROGERS
This weekend Davidson College will honor Mike Maloy, the college’s first African-American scholarship athlete, who passed away in February 2009. A three-time All-American basketball player, Mr. Maloy’s greatness on the court is undeniable. But his legacy off the court may be more important. Forty years after he left the college late in his senior year before graduating, his name still resonates throughout North Carolina, a reminder of a man with an infectious smile who was not afraid to take the road less traveled.
Mr. Maloy was the centerpiece of two Wildcat Elite Eight teams and still holds Davidson College’s career rebounding record. Although his feats later landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, he initially had little interest in playing college basketball. At the end of high school, he was set on becoming a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ missionary. But Davidson Coach Lefty Driesell was not about to let a 6-foot 7-inch kid with one of the quickest first steps in the nation go that easily. Coach Driesell, who was known for his creative recruiting tactics, eventually convinced Mike to drive down to college with him. After reciting the 1907 Robert Service poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in its entirety from New York to North Carolina, Mr. Maloy was administered the SAT, got a great score, and committed to playing for Davidson in 1966.
His decision to play for a small school in the South took great courage. That year the college’s other top recruit, Charlie Scott, broke his commitment to Davidson after he and his family faced racial discrimination at a local restaurant. To help him survive his isolating position at the college, Mr. Maloy found a supportive family in the West Davidson community. Whether he was singing Temptations songs with his friend Garfield Carr or eating a whole pot of Pinto Beans on a Sunday afternoon, Mike was loved and accepted.
In a 1969 article of The Charlotte Observer, Mr. Maloy was asked about his time “across the tracks.” He replied: “Some people tell me not to associate with them. But I say, in no uncertain terms, go to hell.”
Today, Mr. Maloy is remembered for spending time with the kids in town, serving as a role model and encouraging them to pursue a college education. At a time when many African-Americans did not feel welcome on Main Street or on the Davidson College campus, Mr. Maloy proclaimed that he spent his spare time “trying to get my black brothers to seek their own identity.”
Back on the Davidson campus, Mr. Maloy spent the bulk of his time with the basketball team and the Sigma Chi fraternity. Sigma Chi’s national office, which clung to longstanding practices of discrimination, would not recognize Mr. Maloy as a member. He would have been the first African-American in a white fraternity in North Carolina. After the controversy came to light, the fraternity’s University of South Carolina chapter threatened to burn down Davidson’s Sigma Chi house if they pledged Maloy. Sigma Chi overwhelmingly voted to end its affiliation with the national office. Former Davidson President Tom Ross, who pledged Sigma Chi in 1968, said the Davidson chapter’s decision to turn in its charter was “one of my proudest moments at Davidson College.” On a campus that was more than 90 percent Greek, the former Sigma Chi brothers renamed themselves the Machis, and Mike was a full member.
Despite his impact on and off the court, Mr. Maloy left Davidson in 1970 only a few months before graduation. Without saying a word, he was gone, leaving his Sports Illustrated commemorative cover in his dorm room and his many awards in the basement of a fraternity house. Although his reasons for leaving remain unclear, in an interview with Michael Kruse, Maloy remembered his years at Davidson as “probably the best years of my life. I loved it there.”
After a short-stint in the American Basketball Association, Mr. Maloy eventually became a beloved teacher and coach in Austria. The month of his death, one of his players wrote, “Mike Maloy transformed me from a timid freshman on and off the court to a young man who believed in his game and in himself.” Mr. Maloy also sang with the Boring Blues Band and recorded three CDs with the group.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, Mike’s family, teammates, Sigma Chi brothers, and friends from the West Davidson community will come together to unveil a permanent display in Mike Maloy’s honor and announce a $1 million dollar scholarship in his name. Although these are fitting ways to honor his legacy, the Mike Maloy story should not end there. We must make a conscious effort to keep Mike’s story alive in the Davidson community and continue to reach across boundaries of race and class. Nothing can honor Mike Maloy like our everyday actions.
John Rogers is a Davidson College senior who has helped research the life of Mike Maloy for a new memorial at Belk Arena. He also has helped produce a video to be shown this weekend.
Feb. 22, 2011, DavidsonNews.net, “Driesell, players return Sat. for reunion, tribute to Maloy”
Feb. 4, 2009, DavidsonNews.net, “Former Wildcat star Mike Maloy dies in Vienna.”
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to show that Mike Maloy left Davidson before graduation his senior year, not during his junior year.