Morgan State University unveiled its campus memorial to the institution’s athletic greats today, during a ceremony attended by MSU students, faculty, administrators and guests, members of Morgan’s Board of Regents, and MSU alumni, including several hall of fame players. The memorial, Legends Plaza, designed and created by the artistic vision of Morgan alumnus George Nock, honors two head coaches who, for more than 40 years, led Morgan scholar-athletes to stellar achievements on and off the field of play.
“This is really another great day in the history of this great institution,” said Morgan President David Wilson from the podium. “…I’m really honored this morning to be here to dedicate this plaza (to) the outstanding athletic history of Morgan State University. There are so few institutions on the landscape that can boast of having both an impressive academic and leadership legacy and, without really missing a beat, an equally impressive athletic history.”
Legends Plaza, a nearly 2,000-square-foot enclosure on Morgan Commons between the front entrance of Hughes Stadium and the University Student Center, features six-foot bronze statues of Coach Edward P. (“Eddie”) Hurt and Coach Earl C. (“Papa Bear”) Banks. The memorial will also include bronze plaques honoring other Morgan sports legends placed on a 30-foot fence between the two anchoring statues.
Beginning in 1929, Hurt compiled an incredible record of success as Morgan’s football, basketball and track and field coach, leading his teams to 33 CIAA championships and, on the gridiron, a 54-game winning streak. Two Pro Football Hall of Famers and an Olympic gold medal winner rose from his ranks. Banks succeeded Hurt as Morgan’s head football coach in 1960 and added his own chapters to the program’s volume on victory. Under Banks, the Bears won five CIAA Championships, went to four bowl games, were unbeaten in three regular seasons and had a 31-game winning streak. They also sent two more NFL players to the Hall of Fame. Both Banks and Hurt placed the highest value on good citizenship and high moral character and demanded that their players meet that standard on and off the field.
One member of the audience well acquainted with Coach Banks’ standards was his son, the Rev. Dr. Raymond E. Banks Sr., one of several members of the Banks family in attendance at the ceremony. Many of the memories of his father that Dr. Banks recounted at the event were good, but some were bittersweet, including his recollection of the football game he played against Morgan in October 1968 as a member of the Maryland State College squad. Morgan won the game 19-18 during the Bears’ 31-game winning streak. After the defeat, his father gave him the game ball.
“He said, ‘Raymond, you’re the enemy. But I want to give you this game ball,’ ” Dr. Banks recalled. “I don’t know why he did. And who would have thought that when he gave this ball to a young, 22-year-old kid that, 49 years later, a statue would have been erected in his honor.”
Baltimore City Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, a two-time graduate of Morgan and a former cheerleader for the Bears during Coach Banks’ tenure, told the audience about her close relationship with the Banks family and what she gained from attending MSU.
“What cheerleading taught us was leadership skills, camaraderie and how to work together,” Pugh said. “Sports does that for all of us. That’s why we’re so proud of the individuals who will be unveiled here and what they…gave to each and every one of us, as cheerleaders, as sports figures and as those who have gone on to represent Morgan in such a great way.”
George Nock, the sculptor and designer for Legends Plaza, was a starting player on Coach Banks’ Bears from 1965 to 1968 and played four years as a running back in the National Football League. A self-taught and celebrated artist, he is best known for his striking bronze statues of ballplayers, ballerinas, jockeys and jazz musicians. His ability to the capture the versatility and realism of the human form has distinguished him among some of the greatest sculptors of our time.
Nock said he took on the Legends Plaza project as a way to add to his own artistic legacy as well as inspire current Morgan students to excellence and give a gift to “everyone that has gone to Morgan (and) everyone who has known about Morgan or has heard about Coach Banks, Coach Hurt or the legacy of the Morgan Bears. All of these things are what was on my mind to have these people enshrined in bronze.”
Nock’s work will live on at his alma mater.
Other speakers at the ceremony included MSU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Edward Scott and five accomplished Morgan graduates: Maryland State Senator Nathaniel J. McFadden; NFL Hall of Fame inductee Willie E. Lanier Sr., former NFL player and High School Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Robert P. Wade, Olympian Samuel A. LaBeach and writer and educator Cherri Cunningham Cragway, who is a great niece of Coach Hurt.
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is celebrating its 150th year of excellence in higher education. A Carnegie-classified doctoral research institution, Morgan offers more than 100 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s designated Public Urban Research University, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit www.morgan.edu.
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Larry Jones, Morgan State University