AL HAMNIK: 'Forgotten Hoosier' Merriweather has no time for bitterness

2013-11-30T19:15:00Z 2014-03-18T22:12:24Z AL HAMNIK: 'Forgotten Hoosier' Merriweather has no time for bitternessAl Hamnik Times Columnist
November 30, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

GARY | Willie Merriweather should be a bitter man.

He should be angry that a promising NBA career was stolen from him, like a pickpocket working the crowd.

He should still feel the scars of 1950s racism that made he and his Indianapolis Attucks teammates feel like social lepers.

But, surprisingly, Willie Merriweather doesn't have time to hate and despise. He is too intelligent, too educated, to allow himself to become an emotional cripple.

Merriweather may have been the most upbeat member of the 1955 Roosevelt and Attucks teams honored at Saturday's Lakeshore Classic as the first all-black high school teams in this country to play for a state championship.

"Forgotten Hoosiers" had been the theme of this two-day event, which was covered by TNT. But Merriweather didn't want a pity party.

"I'm not upset, not really, because I wound up being the principal at Denby High School in Detroit. I taught 64,000 kids. I taught George Gervin. I represented George Gervin. I represented Shawn Kemp," Merriweather said.

"I don't really have time to worry about (bitterness). I came out of Purdue with a 21-point average. If I was coming out today, I'd be a multi-millionaire. It's just the times."

Merriweather isn't all smiles, however.

"The only thing that bothers me is we're not getting the history of this whole thing out to the young kids today," he said. "These young guys think it's all about what happened last year and the year before last — not three decades ago.

"I do what I can to educate them about the history and how basketball has evolved from the '50s to now."

It was good to see kids at the Genesis Convention Center on Saturday. Hopefully, they listened to the stories, observed legends standing before them, and soaked it all in like a sponge.

They might be surprised to learn Attucks High School, which opened in 1927, was built with funds provided by the Ku Klux Klan to keep black students out of the Indianapolis public school system.

Or that Roosevelt was built in midtown because all the other Gary high schools at that time were predominantly white.

Oscar Robertson and Roosevelt's Dick Barnett, both NBA legends, were in the spotlight much of this weekend, but Merriweather's story might be the most compelling.

He averaged 20 points, 20 rebounds, shot 70 percent from the field and 94 at the line his senior year, when he made the Indiana All-Stars. At 6-foot-5, he played every position at Purdue and was an alternate on the '60 U.S. Olympic Team.

Drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, Merriweather was tearing it up in training camp when he got a letter from the Army — he had been drafted. He was later given a deferment to teach but every June was reclassified 1A, so his basketball was limited to semi-pro leagues.

"I've had a good life," he said, proud as ever to have been a teacher. "It's probably a profession above any other profession, except maybe a heart doctor.

"When you can touch the lives of so many kids, see them grow and make something out of themselves, that is success to me — not money.

"Everyone that works for me is someone I taught," Merriweather said.

You don't forget your teachers, he added, whereas in 10 years most kids won't know who Michael Jordan was.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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