j.b. jenkins_frank merchant_bennie merchant_web.jpgWEST PALM BEACH — Frank Merchant hadn’t been back to West Palm Beach in 30 years. But, on Feb. 19, the retired college professor from North Carolina found himself back in the gymnasium of the segregated high school he attended in the early 1950s.

 Merchant, an outstanding athlete at the former all-black Roosevelt Senior High in West Palm Beach, joined 31 other men and women from the school as the first inductees into the Roosevelt High School Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of outstanding achievement and contribution to sports. This first “Hall” class comprises those who attended the school from 1951-1961.

 “I think this is one of the best things that ever could’ve happened,” said Merchant, who became a Hall of Famer, along with his younger brother, Bennie Merchant.

Merchant excelled in athletics at the school and eventually went on to play professional football for the team now known as the New York Jets. In 2005, he was inducted into the Florida A&M University Athletic Hall of Fame. He went on to receive a Ph.D. and had a remarkable career in both athletics and higher education. After a 32-year tenure at Fayetteville State College, he retired in January as an associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Human Services.

Willie E. Goldsmith Sr., the driving force behind the Roosevelt Hall of Fame and himself a former stand-out athlete at the school and in college, left West Palm Beach after high school and made a name for himself in sports in Arkansas and New Mexico before returning to South Florida and making history here. He was the first African-American head coach of a team to win a 6-A high school state football championship, leading the Miami Northwestern High School “Bulls” in 1995. 

The next year, the National Football League honored Goldsmith as one of the top five best high school coaches in the United States.  Many of his former players went on to careers in the NFL.

When Goldsmith saw a list of the top 100 athletes to come out of Florida with no mention of anyone from Roosevelt High, he became upset.

Goldsmith organized other concerned men into a committee and they created the Roosevelt High School Sports Hall of Fame. The group decided to honor alumni who were not publicly recognized in the history books for outstanding achievement in sports while attending the school or beyond.

The inaugural induction ceremony took place in the same gymnasium where many of their sports careers got started in the 1950s. Today, the institution is known as the Roosevelt Full Service Center, an alternative school in the Palm Beach County School District. Roosevelt High existed from 1950 to 1970, the year when Palm Beach County schools became integrated. According to Donald Wilson, a founding Hall of Fame committee member and an inductee, all of the high school’s numerous trophies, plaques and awards from the segregated years disappeared during the transition to integration.

Some inductees were honored for their accomplishments in their fields and a few others as contributors for their contributions to the school and the community. The living inductees are James "Red" Mack Allen (basketball), Floyd Andrews, (basketball coach), Dan Calloway (baseball/basketball),

Clifford Franks (football/basketball), Willie E. Goldsmith Sr. (athlete, coach, contributor), Elijah Hatchett (football), Ineria Hudnell (contributor), S. Bruce MacDonald (contributor),  Bennie Merchant (football/track), snd Frank Merchant, (football, coaching).

Also, Bradley Mitchell (coaching), Marzell Mitchell (basketball), Jimmie Morrison (football/track), Ralph Rolle (coach/contributor), Lillian Smith-Jenkins (basketball), Malcolm E. Strickland (basketball/contributor), Milton Strickland (basketball/contributor), Al Sutton (athlete, coach, contributor), Roosevelt Thomas (tennis/contributor), Donald Wilson (contributor) and Gloria Williams (contributor).

Those inducted posthumously are Richard Brooks (coach), and Clarence Bunch (football), Willie C. Collier (basketball), George W. Ealy (basketball), Wyatt Grimsley (football), Samuel T. Marshall (coach), Patrick Quince (athlete), Cecil Rolle (football), Bernie Lee Russell (football), Lavern Tart (all-around athlete) and Norman Woolfork (basketball).

Daphne Taylor may be reached at daphnetaylor_49@hotmail.com