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Wray Gunn, the first African-American basketball captain at UMass, is honored Saturday

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by Ron Chimelis,

AMHERST – Wray Gunn was back at the University of Massachusetts Saturday night, returning to the campus where he was once an athlete, scholar and pioneer.

“I’ve been back a couple of times in the last few years,” said Gunn, the first African-American player in UMass men’s basketball history.

A 1952 graduate, Gunn was among several players from the pre-1960 era honored at halftime of the UMass-Boston College game. This was the first of six such nights this season, during which players from various eras will return to help UMass celebrate its 100th season of basketball.

A resident of Sheffield, Gunn’s family roots in the Berkshires date back to the Revolutionary War. He has lived in Lee, Stockbridge or Sheffield since 1940.

Gunn was a 5-foot-6 guard for coach Lorin Ball’s UMass teams from 1949-52. In baseball, he played second base and hit leadoff for the legendary Earl Lorden, and says he might have been UMass’ first black athlete in any sport.

He’s “pretty sure” he was the first black player to become captain of a sports team, he said. UMass media relations director Jason Yellin confirmed that Gunn broke the school’s color barrier in basketball

“I was lucky enough to make the freshman team, and made the varsity as a sophomore,” he said. “I played with Bill Prevey; he was my old ‘feed man.'”

Gunn said he was quick enough to make steals, but sometimes went so fast he would miss the layup at the other end. That left Prevey, who was trailing the play, to convert the putback.

“Bill knew enough to follow me,” Gunn said.

Prevey and Gunn were among at least 16 former UMass players expected back Saturday night. The oldest from what the school calls its “Classic Era” were 1940 graduate William Walsh, and Ed McGrath, class of ’43.

Gunn earned a chemistry degree, with minors in physics and math. He worked as a laboratory technician and quality control director for more than 40 years before retiring in 1996.

Gunn, who acknowledges his age is “about 77 or 78,” said the UMass fraternity houses did not begin accepting minorities until his junior year. Even after they began doing so, he didn’t join because he couldn’t afford it, he said.

“My first dorm room was in Butterfield Hall, Room 101,” he said. “There were four of us to a room – myself, a fellow from Athol and two from the Boston area.

“It was the first time they had been this close to a black person, but we did a lot of things together,” Gunn said.

Gunn became vice-president of his senior class. He has fond memories of UMass, which he remembers as a campus willing to accept diversity, new as the concept was in the early 1950s.

“There were not many blacks on campus at that time,” he said. “It was a real shock to some, but they were very good about it.”


Written by Symphony

December 7, 2008 at 1:51 pm

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