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Scarlet and gray area at Ohio State

East Liverpool resident Alonzo Spencer’s 1946 Ohio State football letterman’s sweater is on display at the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame. (Submitted photo)

EAST LIVERPOOL –Alonzo Spencer was cleaning out some things at his East Liverpool home recently and found his 1946 Ohio State football junior varsity letterman’s sweater.

Memories of a trip to the Ohio State campus then came flooding back, especially with the Buckeyes playing in another national championship game tonight.

“I’m a Potter and a Buckeye,” he said.

Spencer and classmate Dick O’Hanlon, teammates on the Potters’ first unbeaten football team in 1945, went to Steubenville and took a bus to Columbus, where recruits were gathering.

“They showed us around,” Spencer said. “We went down to the stadium and they introduced everybody. When the meeting was over, they took Dick to where he was staying on campus. It came to the point I was almost standing there by myself.”

He was facing something he hadn’t expected. Blacks were not allowed to live on the college campus at the time.

“I’m a young man and had never been away from home,” Spencer said. “Back then I wasn’t allowed to live on campus and I didn’t know it until I got there.”

He got some help.

“A guy from Wellsville, a Black guy, said, ‘Hey, where are you staying tonight?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. He said, ‘There’s a place next to my place and there’s a room available.'”

Some places also were off limits in East Liverpool at the time.

“We couldn’t go to the YMCA,” Spencer said. “We didn’t fight that after football games when the other guys would go to the Y. It was more or less accepted. I guess it was something we put up with and didn’t bother us. It didn’t change my habits and I was content at home. I had a good family and my parents had accepted it. Back then it wasn’t something we talked too much about. Our church was where we did all of our socializing.”

Spencer said he started at halfback on Ohio State’s freshman team and soon made his way up to junior varsity. The NCAA did not allow freshmen to play varsity football until 1972.

“It got to me where I wasn’t happy not living on campus, but we didn’t fight it,” he said. “We just accepted it.”

Spencer said the week before he decided to go to Ohio State he went to visit the Illinois campus.

“If I had known then I couldn’t stay at Ohio State, I might have gone to Illinois, which would have changed my life,” he said. “The good thing about that is I met my wife at Ohio State.”

After the season was over, the coach from Benedict College (a Black college in South Carolina) called him.

“He stopped by the house in East Liverpool and offered a full scholarship,” Spencer said. “I never had been in the south and never heard of Benedict. I played there two seasons.”

Soon he followed a different calling.

“Back then they wanted you to put in two years of service for all males,” Spencer said. “I couldn’t explain to you why, I volunteered and went into the service. If you were in college, you were exempt, but I wanted to get my two years done.”

He said he helped give air support to the Air Force around Korea and Japan from 1950-52.

“I’m glad I did it, but I don’t know why. I didn’t get any advice or talk to my parents,” Spencer said. “I got back and I was broke. So I said I was going to go to Crucible Steel and make some money and go back to school.”

He also back with his girlfriend, Rosalie, and they married.

“She came to East Liverpool and she said, ‘Aren’t you going to go back and get your degree?’ Spencer said. “I kept putting it off. Thirty-five years later I retired from Crucible.”

He figured local historian Frank “Digger” Dawson would like the Ohio State sweater. It is now on display at the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame where visitors can learn of Spencer’s story.

“It all turned out,” he said. “I’m content with my livelihood.”

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