Tablet Opinion

Bob Ray Sanders: A pioneer whose greatness was evident in high school

His fate was set long before James Ireland Cash Jr. ever hoped of going to Texas Christian University, and most certainly before he would integrate its basketball program and lead the Frogs to a Southwest Conference championship in 1967-68.

Way before he received graduate degrees (including a Ph.D. in management information systems) from Purdue University, Cash had demonstrated that he was a deep thinker.

And long before he became a superstar in the Harvard Business School as the first African-American tenured professor, and a board member and adviser of some of the nation’s largest corporations, this Fort Worth native was already a proven leader.

I know.

You see, before Cash did any of those great things, he was a student at I.M. Terrell High School, then the city’s oldest and largest all-black secondary school, where he distinguished himself academically, athletically and socially.

He was my classmate, and he was that well-rounded student whom everyone not only admired but indeed loved.

Before I tell you more about him, let me give you some insight into that remarkable school with its outstanding faculty members who, despite the limitations of the day, imparted knowledge with zeal and instilled hope and desire into generations of eager students who walked those hallowed halls.

Cash is one of many who got their foundation at Terrell, shook off the bonds of racism and discrimination, and went on to excel in various fields.

The school, established in 1882 as the city’s first free “colored school,” was headed by Isaiah Milligan Terrell, who would become principal before moving on in 1915 to be president of Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University).

Terrell High had a reputation for attracting some of the best teachers in the state, many of them with advanced degrees who could have succeeded in areas outside education, had those jobs not been closed to black people.

Cash, like all of us, benefited from that wealth of knowledge and caring.

I was not an athlete, so I never competed with him on the basketball court, a place that he commanded with both force and subtlety under the tutelage of legendary coach Robert Hughes. He led the team to the “Negro” state championship our senior year.

The two of us were friendly rivals in other areas.

We both ran for Student Council president; he won. Both of us were nominated by our classmates for the title “Most Likely to Succeed”; I was runner-up to him.

Cash didn’t study journalism, but he most definitely could write.

Recently, I took a look at the message he wrote to us as Student Council president, which was published in the school yearbook, The Panther.

Speaking to the theme “A Look into the Past … With the Future in Mind,” Cash started out by quoting Omar Khayyam and went on to explain that “regrets of the past have no position in the ambitions for the future.”

He concluded: “It requires no courage or stamina to give up in the face of failure. But the true test of the strength of an individual is the ability to press forward, undaunted by discouragement, and to achieve his goals. Yesterday is gone; its deeds are irretrievable. But tomorrow looms on the horizon as a promise of success and achievement for the determined youth.”

These were such wise words from a young intellect and ones that have been clearly demonstrated by his remarkable life.

On Monday, Cash will be among nine individuals inducted into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame at a luncheon in Fort Worth, an honor well-deserved and overdue.

You can bet that some of his former classmates and teammates from Terrell will be there to cheer him on.