A new online digital collection, containing highlights from the Jack Trice Papers and University Photographs, is available for viewing. 90 years ago this October, an Iowa State legend lost his life from injuries sustained during his first college football game. John G. Trice, better known as Jack, was born in 1902 in the small town of Hiram, Ohio. He later attended high school in Cleveland at East Technical High School, where he had a stellar football career. When his high school coach, Sam Willaman, left to coach at what was then Iowa State College, Trice followed to study animal husbandry with the ultimate goal of going south to help fellow African-Americans in their farming endeavors. While at Iowa State, Trice participated in both track and football, though he is best known for the latter. While just about everyone who has ever been associated with Iowa State knows the story of Trice’s first and last game with the college, here it is for those who are not familiar with it.
On October 6, 1923 Iowa State College (now University) played the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Trice was excited to play in his first college football game and, according to his “last letter,” felt like he had something to prove. In the second play of the game, Trice broke his collar, but said he was alright and kept playing. Then, during the third quarter, University of Minnesota players tackled Trice, forcing him to the ground and crushing him. Although he again claimed to be fine, he was taken out of the game and sent to the hospital. After an examination, the doctors decided that he was fit to travel, and he returned to Ames with the rest of his team. Not long after, on October 8, 1923, Jack Trice passed away from internal bleeding due to injuries from the game. According to a hospital record, he died of traumatic peritonitis following an injury to his abdomen. He left behind a young wife, Cora Mae, whom he had married just that previous summer and who was devastated by the news. Jack Trice is the only athlete to have died as a result of playing for Iowa State.
The night before the game, Trice wrote a letter, part of which is pictured below. It not only gives us a glimpse into what he was thinking and feeling the night before the big game, but it shows that he may have had some sense of what was to come.
the most poignant excerpt reads as follows:
“The honor of my race, family, and self is at stake. Every one is expecting me to do big things. I will. My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about the field. “
Jack Trice made history even before the fated football game. He was Iowa State College’s first African-American athlete, which is made more significant by the fact that this was the early 1920s and many schools, especially in the South, did not have integrated teams until the 1950s and 1960s. Not everyone viewed Trice’s involvement on Iowa State’s team as a good thing. The states of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma all refused to let their schools play against an African-American; essentially what they said was that either Trice would not play in the games against them, or there would be no football game. As expected of that time, Trice faced prejudice and discrimination, and yet he kept going. It does seem, however, that he and his fellow teammates got along well enough.
Today, a bronze statue of Trice, erected in 1987, stands near Jack Trice Stadium, the only Division I-A stadium named after an African-American. The stadium, built in 1975 to replace Clyde Williams Field, was finally named after Trice in 1997 after a long promotion to name it after him that started in 1973. It was originally named Cyclone Stadium in 1984 and the playing field was named Jack Trice Field at that time as well. Now the stadium and bronze statue stand as a commemoration of a young man who sacrificed all for his team, his race, his family, and himself.
For more information on Jack Trice, in addition to what can be found in the online digital collection, feel free to contact us or stop by the Special Collections Department to view the physical collection. To see what the collection contains, click here. To learn more about Jack Trice Stadium, please see collection RS 4/8/4. Come on in and see us!