NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the 1963 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game, Loyola University of Chicago made history with four Black players in its starting lineup.
Two of the Ramblers’ star players, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter, came from Nashville’s all-Black Pearl High School.
Three years later, Pearl High’s 1966 team captain and valedictorian Perry Wallace signed a scholarship with Vanderbilt, becoming the first African American basketball player in Southeastern Conference history.
To recognize the special relationship between Pearl, Loyola and Vanderbilt, Commodore men’s basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse, Loyola head coach Drew Valentine, Vanderbilt Athletic Director Candice Lee and a group of Pearl High alumni will take part in a pregame commemoration at center court just prior to Friday’s game between Vanderbilt and Loyola in Nashville.
The coaches will present framed jerseys from both schools accompanied by an inscription reading:
December 10, 2021
Loyola Ramblers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Celebrating The Legacy of Pearl High School
Les Hunter and Vic Rouse, Loyola, National Champions (1963)
Perry Wallace, Vanderbilt, First Black SEC Basketball Player (1966-1970)
Among the Pearl High alumni at Friday’s game will be Melvin Black, a former Pearl High teacher and coach and Metro Councilmember who serves as a volunteer curator of the Pearl High School Museum located in the old Pearl High building on 17th Ave. N. that now houses MLK Magnet High School. The museum houses photos, memorabilia and other artifacts documenting the history of Pearl High School dating to the late 1800s. For much of that history, Pearl was Nashville’s only high school for Black students.
Pearl High boasted one of the nation’s top high school basketball programs in the 1950s and ‘60s, routinely winning state basketball championships in the days of segregation and the historic first integrated tournament in 1966. In addition, when the National High School Basketball Tournament for Black schools was played in Nashville from 1945-1964, Pearl won four national titles, including three straight championships from 1958-60.
Rouse and Hunter were part of that run and Loyola coach George Ireland frequently came to Nashville to scout Pearl High games. In addition to scouting and signing Rouse and Hunter, he offered Wallace a scholarship to Loyola before Wallace ultimately chose Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, where Friday’s game will take place, sits on Nashville’s 25th Ave. S., which was renamed Perry Wallace Way in 2020. A historical marker outside the Gym commemorates the building as the site of numerous civil rights activities in the 1960s, including speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, the historic 1966 TSSAA championship game and Wallace’s pioneering games with Vanderbilt.
The Pearl High Museum has been acknowledged by national museum curators as one of the most significant collections of the history of the country’s segregated schools. In addition to presenting the framed jerseys to add to the museum’s collection, Vanderbilt Athletics will be assisting with the archival preservation of materials in the museum.
Loyola’s 1963 national championship season is told in the book Ramblers and the documentary The Loyola Project, Perry Wallace’s story is told in the book Strong Inside and the documentary Triumph.