Black History Month: The Year that Changed ECU Athletics

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT)- As schools and universities desegregated in the 1950’s and 60’s, so did the playing field. It took an immense amount of courage and determination for African Americans to walk on the field or the court during those years.

At East Carolina University, there was one man who not only broke the color barrier once, but twice!

“I went down to East Carolina and found out that I was the first black athlete to get a scholarship,” said Vince Colbert, ECU Hall of Fame. “I’m glad I was that guy!”

Vince Colbert was the first-ever dual-sport African American scholar athlete at ECU. He was the man who sparked an evolution in East North Carolina of what we know as college athletics today.

In the mid-sixties, being accepted athletically as an African American was far from easy. Yet, Colbert remained persistent towards his passion- baseball and basketball.

“Being the only black guy down there on both squads at the time, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Colbert. “I heard stories about the south and all, but I just wanted to make sure I was going to be okay.”  

A special bond between a remarkable group of men, is what made Colbert’s time at East Carolina legendary.

“Once you are together as teammates it’s like you are never apart,” said Richard “Rooster” Narron, ECU Baseball Hall of Fame.

Vince began his college experience at the University of Eastern Utah. He spent two years there, studying and competing.

The Summer before Colbert’s junior year opened a new chapter. It was when he decided to pack his bags and move East. That Summer, Vince became a Pirate!

“East Carolina said you can come down for both sports. So, I said you know what I like. I like both sports! I’m going to East Carolina,” added Colbert.

Vince began his time at ECU with an unsettled feeling. He knew there were not many other people at the university like himself.

“When I was on the road, I heard everything. I heard words that I didn’t even know were in the vocabulary.”

But, Vince’s athletic ability changed their minds. Pirate Nation was different.

“My teammates on the basketball and baseball team showed me that everything was going to be alright. We were all in this together.”  

Vince got respect in Greenville.

“Vince, in our language back then, ‘was a good man’,” said Narron.

During the 1967 and 1968 Baseball seasons, East Carolina soared with success.

“We had won the Southern Conference and we went to the NCAA tournament,” said Dennis Burke, ECU Baseball Hall of Famer.” So as far as baseball was concerned, things were in pretty good shape.”  

“Vince was a big part of that,” said Narron, with a smile from ear-to-ear.   

“I enjoyed it. I enjoyed playing with those guys and I enjoyed playing with the basketball guys also,” added Colbert.

When Vince stepped onto the court and the diamond, acceptance became a requirement. From that day on, no one looked back.

“Well, you know… that’s history. And history has a way of hanging around for a while,” said Colbert.   

Now in 2020, there is one thing all of these Hall of Famers still have in common, the pride of being a Pirate!

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