In honor of Black History Month, let's look at pioneering African American athletes from Belmont County. From baseball and football to wrestling and track, these athletes broke records and racial barriers.
King Solomon "Sol" White
King Solomon "Sol" White (June 12, 1868 – August 26, 1955) was a professional baseball infielder, manager, executive, and one of the pioneers of the Negro leagues. Born in Bellaire, White made a name for himself locally and regionally for his ability to play many positions. An active sportswriter for many years, he wrote the first definitive history of black baseball in 1907. White was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 at a ceremony in Cooperstown for his pioneering efforts as “an outstanding player and manager." He was also recognized for his literary contributions by writing the first history of early black baseball teams, players, and playing conditions. The History of Colored Base Ball, also known (on the title page) as Sol White's Official Base Ball Guide became the very first written history of Black baseball teams in America.
White will be honored with an Ohio History Marker in Bellaire Park, where baseball was often played during White’s youth immediately after the end of the Civil War. A dedication ceremony and speaker will be arranged when the marker is unveiled.
George "Chappie" Johnson
George "Chappie" Johnson Jr. (May 8, 1877 – August 17, 1949) was an African American baseball catcher and field manager in the Negro leagues. He played for many of the best teams from 1895 to 1920 and crossed racial boundaries as a teacher and coach.
Johnson was born and raised in the village of Bellaire. In 1895, he debuted at the age of 17 with the Page Fence Giants, where he played shortstop, left field, first base, and then moved to catcher, where he stayed for most of his career. Most of the team moved to Chicago and formed the Chicago Columbia Giants in 1899.
Johnson last played for a major team in 1919 (the eve of the organized Negro Leagues) and continued as a manager through 1939, even managing teams using his name, such as the "Dayton Chappies" and the "Chappie Johnson Stars." He died at 72 in Clemson, South Carolina.
Sam "Toothpick" Jones
Samuel "Toothpick" Jones, born in Stewartsville (Belmont County), was a pitcher with the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, and the Baltimore Orioles between 1951 and 1964. During his career, Jones was known for his sweeping curveball, in addition to a fastball and changeup.
He was given the nickname "toothpick" because he always had a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. The press sometimes called him "Sad Sam" due to his mournful appearance.
Jones led the National League in strikeouts and walks three times: in 1955, 1956, and 1958. On May 12 of the first of these three seasons, he no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates 4–0 at Wrigley Field, becoming the first African American in Major League history to pitch a no-hitter.
His greatest year came with the Giants in 1959, when he led the league in both wins with 21 (tying him with Milwaukee Braves starters Lew Burdette and Warren Spahn) and ERA with 2.83. He was named 1959 National League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News but finished a distant second to Early Wynn of the Chicago White Sox for the Cy Young Award. He was named to the National League All-Star team twice, in 1955 and 1959.
Clyde Thomas was an all-state athlete in basketball and football at Bellaire High School. After a stellar high school career, he ran back for Ohio in the 1958 OVAC All-Star football game alongside quarterback John Havlicek.
Clyde played college football for Ohio University and starred on the undefeated Mid-American Conference Championship team as a senior in 1960. An All-American, Clyde was mentioned in a 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated as “being the biggest frog in a small pond” after helping Ohio University win a Conference Championship and a Small School National Championship (an award that no longer exists today).
His professional career began with the Vancouver British Columbia Lions-Canadian Football League in 1961. In 1964, Clyde began playing with the semi-professional football team the Wheeling Ironmen. In 1965, Clyde made it to the NFL and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He returned to Wheeling in 1965 to play for the Ironmeg through the 1969 season. He retired from the Ironmen as the franchise’s all-time rushing leader. Thomas was inducted into the American Football Association’s Minor Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
Lester Nelson "Les" Carney, born March 31, 1934, in Bellaire, is a retired American sprinter who won a silver medal in the 200 m at the 1960 Olympics, ahead of two team members who beat him at the Olympic trials. He won another silver in this event at the 1959 Pan American Games. Carney also played football at Ohio University and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1958, but they never played professionally.
The Indian Creek High School track field in Jefferson County bears Carney’s name.
Robert Edward "Bobby" Douglas
Born March 27, 1942, in Bridgeport, Bobby Douglas is a retired American freestyle wrestler and coach. He competed as a featherweight at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics and placed fourth in 1964. He won a silver and a bronze medal at the 1966 and 1970 world championships, respectively, and retired later in 1970. After that, Douglas coached several U.S. Olympic teams, is one of only four collegiate coaches to win more than 400 dual meets, and won an NCAA team national title at Arizona State. His coaching accomplishments include 13 NCAA champions, 110 All-America performances, and 68 conference titles.
Douglas added to his legacy by coaching Cael Sanderson to a gold medal in the 185-pound weight class at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Douglas was named the 2004 USA Wrestling Freestyle Coach of the Year. In January 2005, Douglas was honored with the Edward Clark Gallagher Award, which is presented annually to the Oklahoma State wrestling alumnus who exemplifies the spirit and leadership eminent in the tradition of champions. He also received the 2005 Iowa State Alumni Association Impact Award. Douglas was inducted into the NAIS Hall of Fame in 1985, the Arizona Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999, the Dan Brands Hall of Fame in 2002, and the OVAC Hall of Fame in 2004. In his career, he has coached many Olympians who placed in the top three in the world.
Douglas has written several books on wrestling techniques: Takedown I, Takedown II, Pinning and Olympic Technique, Take It To The Mat, Wrestling Skills and Drills, and The Last Takedown. He is one of a handful of gold-certified U.S. coaches.
Joseph Scott Galloway
Bellaire's Joey Galloway is a former NFL wide receiver and current college football analyst with ESPN. He was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks eighth overall in the 1995 NFL Draft and also played for the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Washington Redskins.
Galloway played college football at The Ohio State University. While there he earned many honors and finished in the top five all-time in many of OSU's receiving records.
He made an immediate impact for the Seahawks, setting franchise season records for a rookie with 67 receptions, 1,067 receiving yards, and three 100-yard games. He also had success as a punt returner, returning 36 punts for 360 yards and a touchdown. During his second year, Galloway started all 16 games for the Seahawks, leading the team in receptions with 57, receiving yards with 987, and touchdowns with seven. During his third year in 1997, he made 72 receptions for 1,049 yards and 12 touchdowns. In 1998, he reached double digits He is the NFL's career leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns among players to not be selected for a Pro Bowl.
He was a co-owner of the Arena Football League’s Columbus Destroyers from 2003 until the team disbanded in 2008. In 2012, he joined ESPN as a college football analyst.
Tim Spencer, born in Martins Ferry and a graduate of St. Clairsville High School, played for The Ohio State University, where he ran for 1371 yards in his senior season. He was then drafted by the Chicago Blitz in 1983. He played for the Arizona Wranglers in 1984. In 1985, Spencer signed to play for the San Diego Chargers, the same NFL team that drafted him in the 11th round of the 1983 NFL Draft.
His running backs coaching career includes OSU (1994-2003); Chicago Bears (2004-2012) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014–2018. In 2019, Spencer joined the coaching staff at Lake Forest College in Illinois as a wide receiver coach.