Prep-coaches reflect on meeting Jackie Robinson
The 8x10 picture sits in a prominent spot, on a shelf in the den of Rodd Olson's Crookston home. On the left on the black-and-white framed picture is Olson in his Concordia College baseball uniform. On the far right is teammate Jim Howson. In bet...
The 8x10 picture sits in a prominent spot, on a shelf in the den of Rodd Olson's Crookston home.
On the left on the black-and-white framed picture is Olson in his Concordia College baseball uniform. On the far right is teammate Jim Howson. In between are several other Cobbers players, with coach Sonny Gulsvig in the foreground shaking hands with Jackie Robinson.
"You see the picture and, sometimes, you think back and remember," Olson said. "He (Robinson) was an icon.
"He didn't spend a lot of time with us. He shook hands with everybody. He didn't come across as arrogant. He seemed like a down-to-earth, genuine person."
Olson and Howson went on to long, successful careers as high school coaches. Howson, a longtime coach at Hatton High School and current Larimore boys basketball coach, is in the North Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Olson was inducted into the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame this weekend.
But on that spring day in 1964, they were still college players. Robinson -- the man who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947 -- was on the Concordia campus as the guest speaker for a college fundraiser.
"We didn't know anything about (Robinson's appearance) ahead of time," Howson said. "We were getting ready to get on the bus and go to Fargo for a game, and Sonny brought him over to the team. And he was very gracious.
"None of us had paper or pens to get an autograph."
Ironically, both Olson in Fertile, Minn., and Howson in Rolla, N.D., grew up as Brooklyn Dodgers fans. That was the team on which Robinson played his entire major league career. They were young baseball fans, too young to know a lot about what Robinson went through while breaking baseball's color barrier.
"I remember lying on the couch at home, listening to the radio when Robinson stole home against the Yankees in the 1955 World Series," Howson said.
"But we were just kids back then. We knew about what he'd done. But it didn't mean a lot until you got older and read more about it. When you read about the segregation, and the things he went through, you appreciated what he did."
"When I was young, I probably didn't realize the significance of what Robinson said, that he was the first (African-American) to play, of all the abuse he had to go through. But as you got older and became more aware of baseball's history, you appreciated more what he did.
"Holy cats, to stand there on the field and put up with what he did and not retaliate -- it's mind-boggling to see what kind of person he was, to withstand all that and rise above it.''
And then, years later, to meet the man in person, "in all my encounters in sports, that's got to be right up there with my biggest highlights,'' Olson said.
The Concordia players had their brief moment with Robinson, one of the greats in baseball as a player as well as the man who integrated Major League Baseball.
"I was completely in awe of him," Howson said. "You look back and, the longer time goes by, the bigger an honor (that moment) was for us."
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