Edwards, Hurley among coaches to pledge support toward McLendon Initiative

The story behind ASU's impact with the John McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative

Since 1999, the John McLendon Minority Scholarship Foundation has awarded up to eight $10,000 postgraduate scholarships to minorities in pursuit of a career in administration in athletics. This includes one of the scholarships exclusively going to a minority applicant from "an Arizona based four-year institution."

In total, the foundation has provided 123 students over $1 million in scholarship funds.

But now, 21 years after the start of the scholarship, the McLendon Foundation is adding a new initiative.

The McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, started by Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari and Harvard men's basketball head coach Tommy Amaker in conjunction with the McLendon Foundation, is a program — driven by collegiate coaches — designed to empower and help give more administrative opportunities in sports to minorities.

Head coaches from around the nation have joined the initiative, including three from ASU: men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley, baseball head coach Tracy Smith and head football coach Herm Edwards.

“I am very excited about being given the opportunity to be a part of The McLendon Minority Leadership initiative," Edwards said in a statement to The State Press. “It will provide young minority candidates to gain knowledge and experience in all levels of athletic departments. It will advance the future of college athletics.”

As Hurley sees it, joining the initiative was a good first step toward giving minorities a greater voice in athletics. 

“We wanted to do something very tangible right now,” Hurley said. “I liked what the foundation was trying to accomplish, what it stood for.”

A lasting legacy

Mentored by the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, John McLendon’s legacy as the first African American professional basketball coach looms large within the history of the game. 

McLendon had head coaching stints at North Carolina Central College, Tennessee State University, Hampton Institute, Kentucky State University and Cleveland State University. 

In 1944, McLendon helped form “The Secret Game,” an undisclosed matchup between what's now called North Carolina Central University – where McLendon was coaching – and Duke University’s Medical School team, which was all white, becoming the first known racially integrated basketball game.

Adrien Harraway, the director of the McLendon Foundation, said that sharing McLendon’s story will inspire more coaches to join the initiative and encourage potential candidates to apply for the program.

“Once people hear his story and know what kind of man he was, then they see what the mission is for the foundation," Harraway said. “I think that would be easy for people to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be involved with that.’”

One last-minute call

Harraway was packing up his bags before the phone rang.  

He was ready to head home to Ohio from school at the University of Northern Iowa. But before that, Gene Smith — then the athletic director at ASU who now holds the same position at Ohio State – wanted to give Harraway a shot at an assistant position.

“With the connections that I made, I met Gene at our convention and I talked to him,” Harraway said. “He remembered our conversation and he called me back that somebody had dropped out of the Graduate Assistant spot.

“He asked if I wanted to come to ASU and help out with the football team. It was a blessing in disguise.”

From 2003-05, Harraway taught a class and assisted as an academic adviser with the Sun Devils football team. ASU Deputy Athletics Director Jean Boyd, who was his boss at the time, always knew that Harraway would be successful.

“He had a great deal of care and concern for not only the student-athletes he worked with, but with the people who he worked with as well,” Boyd said. “I’m extremely proud of his evolution as a man and as a professional.”

That experience led Harraway to eventually becoming the associate athletics director for academic affairs at Virginia in 2012 before taking the job as director of the McLendon Foundation in 2018. 

Harraway had been connected to the organization since winning the 2002-03 McLendon Minority Postgraduate Scholarship. He had also interned for the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, which also oversees the McLendon Foundation, before arriving at ASU.

“It was a perfect match,” Harraway said.

Trying to make a difference

The death of George Floyd in May sent shock waves across the nation, with ripple effects that are still being felt today.

For weeks, protesters from around the nation demanded police and social justice reform, including numerous ASU athletes, the Sun Devils' athletics department and Hurley. In his eyes, the recent events had changed his perspective, and he needed to act. 

“There are different examples that we really need to address that go beyond the outrageous acts of racism that we see,” Hurley said. “How a Black man may feel going into a store to go shopping, or how they might feel getting pulled over at a traffic stop or why are they getting pulled over for a traffic stop. 

“I’m just trying to be super aware and make sure that in my world, we just don’t tolerate those things.” 

By joining the McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, Hurley and the vast array of collegiate coaches from around the nation believe that this initiative is a good first step in not only combating racism but placing them in positions of power.

“Not everyone is going to be an athletic director from this program, but they can be integral parts of an athletics department down the road,” Harraway said. “It’s really about access and opportunity. That’s what we’re trying to do with the scholarship program that we have and that’s the same thing the minority leadership initiative is trying to do.”


Reach the reporter at kbriley@asu.edu and on Twitter @KokiRiley.

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