LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It’s a big football week with the Super Bowl, and a Louisville woman is part of another football story, but hers may tug at your heart.
She reached out after hearing that a Black state high school championship team that never got the recognition it was due. Now, she’s helping to turn more than five decades of hurt into hope.
It all began after that Louisville woman turned on her TV and saw a national news story that she said kept her up at night. Marilyn Velde, a well-known player in Louisville women’s golf, is that woman.
“When Lawrence said the trophy was thrown in a dumpster,” Velde remembered, “that did it for me. I was bawling.”
Lawrence is Lawrence Clarington, a former Houston High School football player from Perry, Georgia.
“In the state championship game, I had two interceptions,” Clarington said. In a time of segregation, his undefeated 1969 championship team was never properly recognized.
“We did not have a celebration or anything like that, and we didn’t buy any rings,” he said.
The next year, integrated into a white school, their former school was torn down.
“It was bulldozed,” Clarington said. “Everything went down and the trophies and everything that was in there.”
In 2020, city officials in Perry righted the wrong, finally acknowledging the team. Clarington is the brother-in-law of ABC’s Deborah Roberts and her husband, NBC’s Al Roker. Roberts produced a story about the team, and Velde was watching.
“I had already gone to Google and I said, ‘I’m going to find that man and I’m going to call him in the morning,’” Velde recalled.
Clarington said he remembered getting the call at his office at the Planning and Zoning Commission in Perry.
“They told me, ‘There’s a lady in Louisville, Ky., who wants to speak to you,’ and I said, ‘Louisville Kentucky?’” He remembered. “I didn’t believe it at first because she said, ‘I want to pay for your rings’ and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
She wasn’t. Velde said giving was passed down from her parents.
“They taught us, don’t think about yourself,” she said. “If you have enough for yourself, give to others.”
She wanted to pay for the players’ $300 championship rings, and went to Perry to meet the team. She also got the players trophies, and one for the new school so future generations of students would know about the past. Velde said she spent about $17,000. Her friends Sondra and Paul Karem made the trip with her. Paul Karem helped produce the recent documentary “Black in Blue,” the story of the University of Kentucky football players who were the first black scholarship athletes in the SEC. Clarington said all the effort and care by Velde and her friends means everything to the team.
“It took 50 years, to do this, and there’s a reason,” Clarington said.
Now forever friends, Velde and the1969 team hope their faith in God and in people inspire others.
“It’s good to know that there are still people who care enough to do the very best they can for someone,” Clarington said.