Today's Tidbit... Iowa's First Black H.S. Football Coach
A reader, Scott Johnson, provided information about Joe Wyatt, Iowa's first Black high school football coach, suggesting he might be the basis for a story. Scott also asked whether Wyatt might have been the first Black coach nationally at the high school or college level.
This Tidbit will primarily tell Joe Wyatt's story and will also note that Wyatt was not the first Black high school coach. George Jewett, the first Black player at Michigan and Northwestern, coached predominantly-white Howell High School in Michigan in 1895. Others may have preceded Jewett, but Wyatt clearly was not the first Black coach nationally. Likewise, William Bullock was the first Black football coach at a predominantly-white college (UMass) in 1904. I've covered him here and here.
Wyatt, it turns out, was born in Iowa in 1877, likely in Des Moines. Census records show he was born in Iowa, and period articles indicate he attended Des Moines East High School and played football there. He married in 1897 and soon moved 75 miles north to Webster City, where he worked as a porter.
In 1904, the Webster City High School football team began practicing with a faculty member unfamiliar with football as its coach. After watching practice one day, Wyatt volunteered to coach the team. How the team might have performed without Wyatt's help is unclear, but they did not fare well with it.
The schedule published at the season's beginning, game reports, and reports from decades later are inconsistent, but it appears they finished the season with a 1 - 4 - 1 record. Their schedule and scores looked something like the following:
10/5: Iowa Falls 16 Webster City 0
10/15: Eagle Grove 16 Webster City 0
10/22: Algona @ Webster City, unknown
10/29: Boone @ Boone, unknown
11/5: Eagle Grove @ Webster City, unknown
11/12: Webster City 5 Goldfield 0
11/21: Iowa Falls 16 Webster City 0
11/27: Boone @ Webster City, unknown
Based on the known game results, an additional tie would have matched the reported 1 - 4 - 1 record. Despite not knowing the score of the tie game, it is safe to say the Webster City team was not an offensive juggernaut, scoring only 5 points in the five games for which the scores are known.
Despite their lack of success on the field, the Webster City boys demonstrated their honor off the field when the team stopped at a diner following an away game. When the diner's owner refused to serve Coach Wyatt, the team rose as one and walked out. Similarly, at the season's end, the local merchants passed the hat to show their appreciation for Wyatt’s efforts volunteering with the town team.
Wyatt does not appear to have coached again. Reports show he promoted wrestling matches at the local armory and operated the Pantorium, likely a laundry and dry cleaning establishment. The Pantorium also saw use as a gambling house since he and others received fines for gambling there.
After 1910, Wyatt returned to Des Moines. His WWI Draft Registration Form shows him living there and working again as a porter. Unfortunately, Wyatt passed away in Des Moines in 1938.
Notably, after Wyatt coached Webster City in 1904, another 95 years passed before a second Black coach led an Iowa high school team on a football field when Keith Hanks did so at Sibley-Ocheydeyan High School in 1999.
Webster City High School remains open and had a 6 - 4 record in 2022.
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