In celebration of Black History Month, the Department of Athletics is recognizing some of the people who have contributed to the rich history of the College's programs and who have made their marks on and off the playing fields.
Ruffin James “Ruff” Herndon's remarkable 62-year tenure as Swarthmore's athletic trainer spanned four Swarthmore presidents, seven deans, 11 athletic directors, and 73 head coaches, as noted by a June 4, 1996, article in the Delaware County Daily Times. According to the paper, he boasted the longest record of service in American intercollegiate athletics at the time and only a select few have surpassed him in the intervening years.
When Herndon came to Swarthmore as a member of the custodial staff in 1902, the College was still 40 years away from admitting African-American students and 68 years from hiring its first African-American professor. He was drawn to athletics through his background as a high school football, basketball, and baseball player in Richmond, Va. At the suggestion of a Swarthmore team doctor, he took two years of night school and became the College's athletic trainer in 1904. As a lay preacher, he also brought students with him to north Philadelphia to prepare and serve breakfast to children at schools and churches during the Great Depression.
Students and alumni honored Herndon on several occasions during his years at the College. Upon his retirement in 1964, students dedicated that year's Halcyon to him and his "kind, sensible, knowing spirit."
Norman Talmadge Matlock — likely the first African-American student-athlete in the history of Swarthmore College — represented the Garnet in tennis, basketball, and track & field. The Swarthmore Phoenix noted that he displayed "all-around good form" at meets through his versatility in events such as the discus and low hurdles.
Matlock, nicknamed the "Akron Ace" in the 1946 edition of the Halcyon, appears in the yearbook with an intensely focused, proud look in his eyes. Throughout the pages, he stands out as one of the only African Americans among a sea of white students and faculty.
Matlock, a native of Akron, Ohio, was stationed at Swarthmore during the 1944-45 academic year as part of the Navy's V-12 College Training Program, which prepared junior officers for the ongoing war effort. After serving in the Navy, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a degree in philosophy.
Matlock also displayed his versatility as an actor, singer, and playwright on some of the world's biggest stages. His most prominent acting credits include roles in Taxi Driver, Ghostbusters, and the Spike Lee-directed Crooklyn and Clockers. Matlock also performed on Broadway in Two Gentlemen of Verona and appeared alongside the famed Lena Horne in Pal Joey '78.
Jokotade Agunloye Greenberg '01, Imo Akpan '02, and Osazenoriuwa Ebose '15 are three of the most decorated track and field athletes in Swarthmore athletics history. All three women were All-Americans, won multiple Centennial Conference championship events, and still hold program records in their respective disciplines. Greenberg and Akpan are both members of the Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame and Ebose has a strong case for induction when she becomes eligible in 2025.
All three women also have strong ties to their Nigerian heritage and recently offered their thoughts on Nigerian culture, the role of athletics in identity development, and the dialogue surrounding immigration.
Read their interview at Nigerian-American and All-American: A Track & Field Trio.
Another track & field standout of Nigerian decent, Njideka Akunyili Crosby '04, was a Centennial Conference medalist while at the College and is an award-winning and world-renowned artist.