WNHS’ Black History Month contest leads to surprises for teachers, students

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Westerville North High School’s Black History Month Door Contest led to some surprise exchanges and visits.

History teacher Ben Hartnell used the door and entrance of his classroom to honor Jimmy Raye, the first Black quarterback from the South to win a National Championship when he played for Michigan State in 1966. Raye was part of Coach Duffy Daugherty’s “Underground Railroad,” which recruited Black players from the South who were unable to play due to segregation. Michigan State’s 1965 and 1966 teams were the first integrated teams in college football.

Veteran sports broadcaster Jack Ebling invited Hartnell to talk about his Black History Month display during Ebling’s radio show, The Drive with Jack, which focuses on Michigan sports. During the segment, Raye joined the conversation to surprise Hartnell. (Listen to the interview here.)

“It’s quite an honor to witness what you’ve done with the display and… introducing students to the history of Michigan State football in the 60s and the Underground Railroad,” Raye told Hartnell. “I’m thrilled and honored that you would do that.”

Hartnell introduced his students to sportswriter Tom Shanahan’s book about Raye, “Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the Integration of College Football and the 1965–66 Michigan State Spartans.”

Raye and Shanahan will do a Zoom call with Hartnell’s students once they finish the book.

Meanwhile, English and journalism teacher Becky Gaffney dedicated her door to honoring Black journalists, from W.E.B. Du Bois to Nikole Hannah-Jones. She also featured WNHS grad Brian Custer, an Emmy Award-winning sportscaster who serves as an anchor for ESPN’s SportsCenter and a play-by-play commentator for college football and basketball. He is also the host for Showtime Championship Boxing.

She posted a photo of her door on Instagram, tagging Custer in the post. He responded to Gaffney and the two exchanged messages to plan a visit to WNHS. Custer returned to his former high school and met with Odyssey students on Thursday.