[dropcap]A[/dropcap]rcata, CA–In 1955, Earl Meneweather was the first inductee into Humboldt State University’s Hall of Fame. He played football at HSU during the great depression years of 1935-38 when there were only 350 students at HSU.
Meneweather was one of the first groups of young, Black men that arrived at HSU to play football. Coach Earl Erby realized that there were graduates from the Bay Area that could compliment HSU’s football team.
Meneweather would later become the first Black administrator at HSU in 1970, where he served as an assistant to the president and the Ombudsman.
“He was always there provide an open door for us and was an awesome man. He was also responsible for recruiting a lot of the students we had from the Bay Area,” says Richard R.W Hicks.
Hicks graduated HSU in 1974 and while a student, he started the first Black Student Union. He played football from 1971-1973 at HSU and the NFL for three years.
He received an invitation to try out for the Denver Broncos and ended up playing for three different NFL team logos–including the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions.
Playing in the NFL and being an inductee into HSU’s Hall of Fame are very respectable accomplishments. One of Hicks biggest acclamations however, is how instrumental he has been in increasing the cultural demographics at HSU and helping underrepresented students realize their potential.
In 1983, when Hick’s and his wife moved back to Humboldt County, he was invited to coach for HSU’s football team.
“I coached for 2 years and each year I went to the commencement exercise. To my horror, I did not see a single African-American student walk across the stage and get a degree,” Hicks described.
It was in that moment that he realized he had a bigger job than just coaching football.
“It was interesting, I would talk to administrators and no one seemed to even have an interest. Or better yet, no one seemed to notice it. Yes, there were Black students attending Humboldt but they would leave school, return home and never finish their degrees at Humboldt.”
For 23 years Hicks dedicated his time to HSU and was the director of various programs and a powerful recruiter for the school. He had even sought the guidance of Mr. Meneweather in the daunting task of educating the university and local community about the importance of diversity.
“I left football and became a recruiter for students of color in an effort to diversify the campus. I recruited students from Southern California and the Bay Area. From schools such as Washington, Inglewood, Morningside, L.A High, Dorsey High, Fremont High, and in the Bay Area. Schools such as Oakland Tech, Oakland High and Skyline.”
Hicks had to establish and maintain networks at high-schools that had never visited HSU, which he was very successful at. He also helped to establish the Spring Preview bus trip that was designed to bring students to see HSU for themselves.
A very strong Black History Month program was developed as well as other activities targeted to the interest of Black students–including the first Black graduation under Hicks guidance.
Football players at HSU like Meneweather and Hicks, helped break down barriers for the increasing enrollment of African-American students at HSU.
In his report on African-Americans in Humboldt County from 1850-1972, Dennis O’Reily notes that Black athletes were better received than others because they were hailed as football heroes by the local community.
“The Black athlete in Humboldt County has helped the relationship between Blacks and whites. The Black athletes close white associates, fellow athletes and students, see him as an admirable person and have carried with them positive attitudes towards Black people because of this contact.”
Diamond Weaver is originally from Sacramento and transferred to HSU from the University of Akron in 2010. He is currently the Cornerbacks Coach at the University of Maine.
He played football at HSU for only one year but it was a year that HSU football players showed tremendous skill and love for the sport. It was the same year that Coach Rob Smith led the team to win the GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference).
“Coming from a division 1 level to a lower level I thought it was going to be a place that wasn’t going to provide that same type of atmosphere–but I was wrong. At the time it was the only show in town and the only opportunity for people to go out and watch a college football game.”
The first home game that Weaver played at HSU was against Central Washington. It was not only sold out, but was broadcasted on television.
“There were people surrounding the track, guys were out there with chainsaws. I just didn’t expect that type of atmosphere on game day from Humboldt State. Once I experienced that, I knew this was a special place.”
Weaver described being heartbroken when he heard HSU would be cutting the football team. He knew something was wrong last year, when Smith stepped down as head football coach.
Then came the outpouring of support from alumni like Weaver and local community members who contributed over $300,000 to help save the football program. In the end it was not enough and last week, HSU’s Athletics Department released a statement with the news.
For Weaver there is no denying the diversity that football brings to HSU’s campus and the opportunity athletics provides for kids of all backgrounds to come together for one common goal. He relayed that he met some of his best friends during his time at Humboldt State and he credits football for the strong relationships they have.
“You are bringing people from the inner city of Los Angeles, the suburbs of San Diego, from Bakersfield, Fresno and all over the state to small Arcata,” Weaver expressed. “There are not too many reasons someone of an ethnic background coming from the inner city, is going to want to attend school in Humboldt County.”
There are many options in the state of California to further your education. For promising high-school athletes who want to play football in California, their choices are limited.
“You no longer have a Chico state, you no longer have a Sonoma State, that whole conference has disappeared because they got rid of the football program. Humboldt state was standing strong and that’s why it was so attractive.”