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Renowned educator, athlete honored in his Alabama hometown
Oct 17

Editors Note UPDATES: With AP Photos.

By DONNA THORNTON, The Gadsden Times

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) _ Clarence Underwood Jr. left Gadsden in 1953, a proud graduate of Carver High School. He served in the U.S. Army, then went to Michigan State University to pursue opportunities that were not available to him in Gadsden.

He made the most of them, playing football and pursing his education _ capped with a Ph.D. in higher education _ and a career that would find him serving as Michigan State's assistant athletic director for compliance, then as senior associate athletic director and as director of athletics from 1999 to 2002, along with tenure as associate commissioner in the Big Ten Conference.

Underwood recently returned to Gadsden _ ``welcomed with open arms'' _ as the city named the park at the Gadsden Public Library branch on College Street after the renowned educator and athlete.

Underwood said he was pleased to see greater opportunities in Gadsden today, than in decades past.

To illustrate the difference, Underwood recalled his time as a three-sport athlete at Carver.

``Carver had a decent football team,'' Underwood said, and Carver athletes heard plenty about the teams at Gadsden High and Emma Sansom. But they never got the chance to meet those teams on the playing field.

``I really wanted to play those teams,'' he said. ``I really truly wish I'd had the opportunity. The culture at that time didn't permit it.''

But Underwood watched the 1954 Rose Bowl, pitting the Michigan State Spartans against the UCLA Bruins. It was the first television ``colorcast,'' but Underwood was impressed with what he saw in black and white _ teams comprised of Black and white players taking the same field.

It inspired him to enroll at Michigan State, where he played football and would later play a supportive role for the school's student-athletes.

In returning to Gadsden, Underwood said it was striking to him to see sensitivity about diversity in the city, starting with the City Council. He noted the number of minorities he saw involved in every aspect of his visit. Underwood said he didn't see the divisiveness in Gadsden that he's seen in other areas.

In addition to meeting via Zoom with the council, and with other community leaders at a luncheon at the library and at the dedication, Underwood spoke to student groups at Gadsden schools, toured the Carver Museum and spoke to students from the Boys & Girls Club.

His message? ``That there is nothing they can't learn,'' Underwood said.

``If you have skills and ambition and are willing to work,'' he said, success will come.

From what he saw during his visit, the opportunity level is great in his hometown.

``Everything that you can accomplish in life, you can accomplish right here in Gadsden,'' he said during the dedication of the park. ``It's a great city.''

In addition to speaking to students and meeting the public, Gadsden Public Library Director Craig Scott said Underwood was taken on a tour, via limo, around the city. For Scott, a Michigan State graduate, it was a treat.

``He's a legend at my school,'' Scott said.

They visited the neighborhood where Underwood lived, Scott said, and he got out and knocked on the doors of some former neighbors, spending time talking to them. Underwood said he enjoyed having the opportunity to see some former classmates at the dedication and reception afterward.

For Scott and the library staffers who made plans for Underwood's visit, it was a great success. Scott said it turned out to be more than he could have hoped for, and it may have been the same for Underwood.

``He gave me the biggest hug,'' Scott said.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2019