Black History Month: Holloway Smith; After Trice
Photo of Holloway Smith appears courtesy of Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library
AMES, Iowa - The legacy of Jack Trice, the first African-American student-athlete in Iowa State history who died from injuries suffered in a game at Minnesota, has been rekindled over the last 50 years. He is remembered today not so much for his fate, but for his character and work ethic as a student and teammate. Iowa State's football stadium now bears his name.
Just three years hence, another African-American came to Ames to attend Iowa State from Michigan State to seek a degree in agricultural education and to play football. His name was Holloway Smith. The Detroit native ended a successful college life in Ames by graduating in 1928. Smith concluded his athletics career as an all-conference lineman.
Virtually nothing has been written about Smith. There are snippets of contemporary newspaper articles, small swaths that hint at what he did at Iowa State, but less at who he was. Nevertheless, the written record provides us with clues on both counts.
In the fall of 1926, Smith was one of 3,960 students who reported to campus for classes. Iowa State was in its final days under President Raymond Pearson, who was headed to the University of Maryland to be its' president.
In the fall of 1926, Iowa State was playing under a new head football coach, Noel Workman. The first-year head coach had come to Iowa State from Simpson College.
During preseason practice, Smith received his first mention in the Iowa State Student newspaper:
"Among the outstanding men who are seeking (a starting) assignment are Holloway Smith, the big colored boy...Smith is one of the first colored aspirants to the Iowa State team since the great Jack Trice, and he is showing up as varsity material. Smith is 6 feet 3 inches high and weighs about 219 pounds."
At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 219 pounds, Holloway was gargantuan among his teammates. Tackle to tackle, the Iowa State starters that fall weighed an average of 181 pounds. It should be noted that The Student's figures conflict with Iowa State game programs, which list Smith at 195. Even at 195, he would have been a monster on the State Field midway.
As the season started it is apparent that Smith's play attracted attention. The Oct. 11 Iowa State Student recorded the fact that:
"Although there has been no mention of (Smith's) name for a tackle berth, he will probably be given a chance during the Grinnell game to show the Cyclone mentors what he can do against Missouri Valley Conference competition."
Smith appears to not have played in the Cyclones' win at Washington (Mo.) or in the loss against Oklahoma State the first two weeks of the season. His initial appearance against Grinnell Oct. 16 exceeded all expectations.
The game day program for the season's last game looked back at Holloway's efforts in the 0-0 draw with the Pioneers:
"In his first game as a Cyclone, although hampered most of the time that Saturday with a broken hand, the giant tackle smeared Grinnell plays for repeated losses, and ripped holes in the Pioneer line large enough to let a truck thru."
The Oct. 19 Iowa State Student concurred after watching Smith play with a broken hand in the game at Grinnell that:
"The work of Smith at tackle was often responsible for the ability of the Cyclone backs to gain through the Grinnell line."
But the Des Moines Register led the way. A large picture of Smith appeared on the front of the sports page on Oct. 22. Above the picture of Holloway and under a headline "Stars for Cyclones" the accompanying copy read:
"In Coach Noel Workman's squad of gridders at Iowa State College this fall is a Negro player. Smith by name, who has given every indication of playing a brand of football for the Cyclones that smacks of championship caliber."
The copy ended with an unexplained piece of information: "Smith, a tackle, will not perform against Missouri tomorrow when the Cyclones meet the Bengals."
The Ames Tribune reported that Smith had paid a price for the limelight in his first game:
"Holloway Smith, the giant Negro tackle from Kentucky (perhaps his birthplace as Smith listed his hometown as Detroit), was the only Cyclone to suffer anything but minor injury in the Grinnell game. Smith broke two bones in his left hand during the second quarter but played on through to the half and after proving to Trainer Nelson that there was nothing wrong with it and had adhesive tape applied ... (Smith) played to the end of the game with seemingly unimpaired detriment. He was carrying the hand last night encased in a large plaster cast and will be unable to play, in the Missouri game this week, the rest however, is expected to prove beneficial to him in preparation for the Nebraska game a week later."
So, as the 1-1-1 Cyclones got set to travel south to Columbia, Mo. to take on Missouri, Iowa State would be without Smith. The Iowa State Student directly addressed why Smith would not be on the trip and why he didn't play at Washington (Mo.) and vs. Oklahoma State. It wasn't his injured hand:
"The fact that Smith, Iowa State's latest sensation cannot be used against the veteran Tigers because of a Missouri Valley (Conference) agreement with Southern Schools to not use colored players is the most serious handicap the Cyclones face at the present time. Smith's work in smearing plays of the opposite side and opening great holes for the Cardinal and Gold is the very thing that Iowa State needs Saturday. Smith's hand, which was broken in the Grinnell game is healing nicely, and it is expected that he will be in the starting lineup against Nebraska Oct. 29."
College football wasn't close to integration. Iowa State's African-American players who traveled to Missouri in 1952, would still have to sleep in a segregated funeral parlor rather than the hotel where the rest of the Cyclones were staying.
After a 7-3 loss against Missouri without Smith, Iowa State got set to travel to Nebraska.
Again, the focus was on Smith. The Thursday before the game, Nebraska head coach Ernest Bearg first implied that he was worried about Smith playing, not because of race but because he had not played against one conference contender (Missouri) but would now play against Nebraska, another league favorite.
The Des Moines Register printed a murky report from Lincoln in which the Nebraska head coach said his objections to Smith's participation in the game had to do with his plaster hand cast, not race:
"Smith's presence in the Ames lineup would not infringe upon a conference rule and I am sure there is absolutely nothing to the (racial) protest suggestion," Bearg said."The only concern Nebraska has to Smith is that the story from Ames that the big black boy will go into the game with one of his hands encased in a plaster cast. Unquestionably, as I view it, that plaster cast business would constitute a violation of the rules. If Smith goes on the field with that hand armor I shall refer the situation to the officials and abide by their decision. The Cornhuskers have no fear of Smith. I am told he has plenty of size, but after we jam in a few plays over his position he may not be so terrifying."
It should be noted that Nebraska, like all teams during that era, hired and paid its own officials for Cornhusker home games.
Relations between Nebraska and Iowa State's football programs were not good. In 1923, six weeks after the death of Jack Trice, Nebraska beat Iowa State, 26-14 in Ames. Nebraska, though victorious, left Ames bitter at what its coaches believed was dirty play on the part of the Cyclones. The hard feelings were so strong that Nebraska's wrestling coach R.G Clapp, on behalf of the Nebraska athletics board, wrote Iowa State acting athletics director Hugo Otopalik the following Friday. Otopalik and Clapp knew each other well, as Otopalik had been one of Clapp's best wrestlers. Still, Clapp spared his protégé no detail.
"(Nebraska officials) feel quite strongly that the best thing under the circumstances is not to play Ames in football until conditions are such as to assure the team different treatment than that received last week."
The two teams did not meet in 1924 and 1925. When Bearg pulled Smith into the controversy in 1926 it was too much for Sec Taylor, the longtime sports editor of the Des Moines Register. Taylor supported Smith and Iowa State in his column "Sittin' In With The Athletes."
"The Huskers should forget that Smith is black, play him as if he were white, and forget all about that 1923 game, as Nebraska has more to be ashamed of than Ames so far as that contest is concerned."
Smith played in a game that was anti-climatic. Nebraska won 31-6. Workman was so dissatisfied with his team's play that he pulled the first-team off the field, excepting Holloway, who later recovered a fumble during the game.
Holloway, with a cast still on his broken hand, played in the Cyclones' 13-7 win over Drake (Nov. 13) and a 3-2 victory at Kansas State (Nov. 20). The final game of that season would be the Cyclones' first truly intersectional game, against UCLA in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, the Coliseum was just in its third season of football in 1926.
Iowa State left Manhattan by train the Saturday after the KSU victory and rode the rails southwest. Monday they were in El Paso. The Cyclones practiced in Tucson, Ariz. for three days before entraining again to reach Los Angeles on Friday.
A few hardy Iowa State fans might have thought about a Cyclone victory. But by and large, the 5-2 Bruins were favored. Instead, the Cyclones whipped UCLA, 20-0 to finish the year with three straight wins and Iowa State's fourth straight 4-3-1 season. Holloway and his teammates were welcomed home by large crowds at Ames City Hall, from which a parade took the team to State Gym where a huge crowd had jammed itself to witness the campus arrival of the squad.
The Alumnus described the Dec. 1 gathering as "one of the greatest receptions ever tended an Iowa State team."
With the late-season surge fresh on everyone's mind, hopes for 1927 were running high. Workman worried about his offensive line as spring practice started on March 24.
"If Galbraith, from the 1925 team should return next fall, with Smith from last year's team, then the tackle positions will not bother us much," Workman wrote.
The Iowa State coach then addressed the fact that Smith would face discrimination again 1927:
"Smith will be barred from competition only in the Missouri game next fall," Workman wrote.
Smith went on to have a strong senior season in 1927. He was a major factor in Iowa State's stunning 12-12 draw at Illinois. The Illini went on to be a consensus national champion. It was a high water mark for an Iowa State team that was again 4-3-1 on season's end. Smith was voted third-team All-Missouri Valley Conference.
Smith graduated with a bachelor's degree in agricultural education in 1928. He went to work in Marianna, Ark., as a teacher. He earned master teacher recognition there.
In the Iowa State Yearbook (The Bomb) for 1928 his classmate's made this observation about his on-field demeanor:
"Holloway was always fighting to the limit and opponent backs frequently kissed the ground before they were well started due to 'No. 16' as Holloway was known."
Smith's graduation picture is not in the Bomb. The Iowa State yearbook contains just one other African American senior photo. Smith did pose with the football squad for the team picture and with his fellow students in the agricultural education club and the "AA" Fraternity, the letterwinners' club.
Smith lived at 2426 Lincoln Way when he first got to Ames. In early 1927, Smith moved to downtown Ames at 200 1/2 Main St. Jack Trice had also lived in downtown Ames three years earlier. Because so many students lived off campus, we don't know if Smith lived there by choice or by mandate.
Smith's trail goes cold after 1933. His legacy at Iowa State however is clearer. He came. He played and he graduated all the while facing public scrutiny. That alone tells us something about Holloway Smith the man.