FIFTY YEARS AGO…
Fallsburg Coach Reacts to O.C.L. Rejection
by John Conway
FALLSBURG– “Black doesn’t rub off.”
That is how longtime Fallsburg High School basketball coach Jim McDermott closed out a letter he wrote in April of 1972—50 years ago this month—following the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (OCIAA) third rejection in less than a year of a Fallsburg application to join.
The league also turned down, for the fourth time, an application by Monticello. Both schools were looking for a league to call home after the DUSO Village League in which they had traditionally competed—along with Liberty, Ellenville and Port Jervis—had folded.
In a lengthy article by sportswriter Lou Hansen, who devoted several pieces to the topic over a ten-day period, the Times Herald-Record reported that the reason Orange County League officials gave for the latest Fallsburg rejection was different from their earlier rationale.
“We realize the problem that confronts your school in its athletic endeavors, but the OCIAA feels that it does not wish to expand its membership at this time,” Hansen quoted from the league’s announcement of its rejection. Previously, the league had cited rowdyism, travel distances, and financial problems for the earlier rejections.
For McDermott, the third rejection was the last straw.
“The real reason Fallsburg has been rejected is as clear as the black noses on the black faces that are 90 per cent of our athletes,” he told the Record. “We’re too black.”
In his letter following the April 20, 1972 vote rejecting the Fallsburg application, McDermott noted that, “Three times the Orange County League has rejected Fallsburg. Three times I have written this letter and twice I didn’t mail it because I was afraid I would anger other schools and terrified that I’d provoke administrators who would not allow their athletic teams to play ours…
“Now I feel humiliated,” his letter continued. “I find it difficult to face my athletes and I know I must speak out or I am less of a man than I ask my athletes to be.”
The Record presented enrollment figures for the existing Orange County League schools that showed that only one of them, from Otisville, the smallest school to Middletown, the largest, had as many as half the percentage of African American students in grades 7 through 12 as Fallsburg and Monticello, which had 19.6 and 15.3 percent respectively. Only Otisville, which had just 145 students in grades 7-12 (and, incidentally, would close its doors less than a year later) came close to the two Sullivan County schools, as the 22 African Americans enrolled in the district accounted for 15.2 per cent of its student body.
McDermott concluded his letter by proposing that if the Orange County school administrators “want to help minorities, if they really care, all they have to do is cast a ballot for Fallsburg and Monticello and Newburgh. Is it asking too much to permit their children to compete against ours? Black doesn’t rub off.”
The letter provoked a slew of letters to the editors—on both sides of the issue—and further coverage by TH-Record, but the OCIAA stuck by its decision for quite some time, characterizing McDermott’s reasoning as inaccurate and insulting.
Fallsburg and Monticello had both regularly competed against OCL schools in non-league contests for years, and both schools currently compete in Section IX against several schools from the league.