Morgan State University Bears team from the first season.

The Bears’ first season success earned them a place in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) where they finished 8 and 4 in their first officially regulated college athletics season in 1971. (Courtesy photo)

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO

This is a story told many times about the then Morgan State College Bears coming out of nowhere to overcome and rule a sport once racially segregated from them. But it is a tale well worth repeating. 

Surprisingly, the game of lacrosse was first observed in Canada being played by Huron Indians in 1636. It was called stickball originally but eventually got the name we all know it as now. And despite its origin by persons of color it eventually became a high school and college sport played mostly at rich, White schools until ten Black Bears came knocking at their doors and that’s where the story of the Morgan State Bears becoming a dominant lacrosse sports phenomenon begins.  

The Morgan Bears were no different; they had to fight their way into a sports field for Whites only. From being locked out of college lacrosse to dominance for many years, the Bears were an incredible success story in sports.

Turbulent 1970 was the year a former Forest Park High School football quarterback, Miles Harrison, Jr. and a schoolmate-friend, Val Emery Jr., approached Morgan Head Coach Earl Banks about starting a lacrosse team at Morgan. Banks referred them to a Grad School Dean, Howard “Chip” Silverman, who himself had played lacrosse but had never coached the sport. Silverman was mindful that academically and athletically capable Black Morgan students, who had played lacrosse in high school, would not get into the White colleges where lacrosse was being played regularly. So, with urgings from the students and the coach, he began recruiting for a club lacrosse team that would not be in the NCAA but would follow intercollegiate rules. Mostly football players showed up for the first lacrosse team organizing meeting going on to a winning season (6-4) in its first year. Almost like a fantasy, Morgan was the first and for thirty years the only historically Black college or university to have a lacrosse team. 

The Bears’ first season success earned them a place in the NCAA (the National Collegiate Athletic Association) where they finished 8 and 4 in their first officially regulated college athletics season in 1971. Also, that year, Miles Harrison Jr. became the first lacrosse player from an HBCU to play in the acclaimed North-South All Star Game with and against the nation’s top lacrosse players. Harrison followed in the footsteps of Syracuse University lacrosse legend Jim Brown, who later became a Cleveland Brown Pro Football Hall of Famer and then a movie star. Jim Brown who still holds a record after 64 years for the most goals (5) scored in the 1957 All-Star Game in a half of the game. Brown and Harrison were two stellar players that were standouts a generation apart.

Some say when the Bears took to the lacrosse field over their eleven years, entered NCAA competition and were so victorious that the teams from 1970-1981 that they were writing sports history. Racism has historically been challenged in sports – Jackie Robinson’s difficult entrance into Major League Baseball and the ignoring of Negro League players and their stats and Muhammad Ali’s license removed because of boxing’s unwillingness to acknowledge the Nation of Islam, his faith’s opposition to fighting in foreign wars. And more recently, the stubborn unwillingness and unfairness of the nearly all White group of NFL owners to hire former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, after his kneeling protest during pre-game national anthem salutes.

The Morgan Bears were no different; they had to fight their way into a sports field for Whites only. From being locked out of college lacrosse to dominance for many years, the Bears were an incredible success story in sports. Dominating over established White schools where lacrosse was king: Georgetown, Notre Dame, Villanova and Harvard.   

Morgan’s lacrosse greatness was established once and for all in their stunning, upset victory (March 8, 1975) over No. 1 ranked Washington and Lee. Until W and L met Morgan their team had been undefeated for two seasons; the Generals had been unbeaten in 27 total contests.  

The Morgan State Bears produced many outstanding ‘stick men.’ Principally among them was an All MSA high school quarterback and lacrosse player, Miles Harrison Jr. Harrison was born in the westside’s Provident Hospital and grew up in East Baltimore. He attended Forest Park High School, Morgan State College and the University of Pennsylvania for medical school. Like his grandfather, Dr. Bernard Harris, and his uncle, the junior Harrison became a surgeon. He clearly loved lacrosse (making team captain in his senior year in college) and passed his affection for the sport on to his son, Kyle Harrison. But Miles shares the credit for the creation, success and growth of lacrosse at Morgan with founding Coach Howard “Chip” Silverman  and with the dedicated, talented and skilled many men who made the teams for years and dominated for four out of their first five years in the NCAA’s Division II. Names such Wayne Jackson, an All American, Dave Raymond, a 1974 College Division Honorable Mention All American and Courtney Servary (one of the only White guys who played for Morgan and was a 1978 All American).  

Outstandingly, one of Morgan’s star players, Joseph “Flaky” Foulkes II, was featured on the cover of lacrosse magazines from around the country, most notably, USA Lacrosse Magazine. Written in the magazine, “The Morgan State midfielder was a three-time All-American (1976-78) and 1976 Division II scoring champion (61).” In 1978, Fowlkes was the first Black player featured on the NCAA Lacrosse Guide.

And also from Morgan’s Ten Bears era also in the second half of their domineering decade is Anthony Ryan. Ryan along with others advocated for Division I lacrosse at HBCUs. Said the former Bears midfielder and current City College High School boys lacrosse coach in 2016: “It would definitely be a good thing. We have lacrosse at practically every high school in Baltimore City, and yet we don’t have a college lacrosse team at an HBCU that is a varsity team. There’s a couple that do have club ball, but that’s a far cry from actually having a varsity sport.” Ryan coached the 2019 and 2021 City Public School Championship teams.

Another superb Big Ten player from latter days of their era, Lloyd Carter lettered in lacrosse in high school and college – he played for Morgan State beginning in 1977 until the program ended in 1981. Carter just finished his third season as the first head coach in the history of Hampton University men’s lacrosse in 2018, ushering the program into the NCAA Div. I era as the first HBCU ever in Division I Lacrosse.

Book cover of "Ten Bears"book co-authored by “Chip” Silverman and Miles Harrison Jr.

The amazing accounts of Morgan’s dominant lacrosse team live on in “Ten Bears,” a 2001 book co-authored by “Chip” Silverman and Miles Harrison Jr. and a 2007 PBS documentary, “The Morgan Lacrosse Story.” Both accounts celebrate every player on every Morgan State Lacrosse Team from 1970 to the last season in 1980.  

The next generation of African American Lacrosse players includes Miles Harrison, Jr.’s son, Kyle. The son of Miles and his wife of 47 years, Wanda (Vails) Harrison, Kyle entered powerhouse lacrosse school Johns Hopkins University in 2001, and dominated as a top mid-fielder in scoring and faceoffs. While there, his lacrosse magic made Hopkins sports history. And like her father and her grandfather before her, Kyle’s five year old daughter, Brooke, has already picked up a lacrosse stick on the way to continuing the family tradition of breaking down barriers. And so, the lacrosse excellence story goes on and on and the love of the games will live happily ever after.

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