The men’s basketball team at St. Francis College in Brooklyn is currently 2–5. Each game, the players are giving their best on the court. Following a win over Medgar Evers College on Nov. 21, the Terriers honored the legacy of a former player who impacted the program and the college deeply. Levi Bough ’50 was the first African American player on the men’s basketball team.
Assistant coach Jamaal Womack attended St. Francis, playing on the basketball team and serving as captain from his sophomore through senior years. He was also active in student government and considered himself a bit of a historian on the college, so he was extremely surprised when sports information director Rob DeVita showed him a program from a game held 60 years ago.
“The name Levi Bough appeared. It said, ‘The first Negro to play at St. Francis College,’” Womack said. “No one knew who Levi Bough was. I researched the name and found an article written by his niece, Shelley Dewese.”
Bough was born in the American Virgin Islands and grew up in Queens. After serving in the U.S. Army in the 761st Tank Battalion in Germany, he attended St. Francis from 1947–’50 on a basketball scholarship, graduating with a degree in philosophy and psychology. Having met his wife in Europe, he subsequently settled in Switzerland, where he held various jobs and stayed connected to basketball as a coach. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 87.
Fifteen members of Bough’s family attended the plaque presentation, including Dewese, who lives in St. Croix, USVI. The players were moved by the story. Dewese said the acknowledgment and celebration were more than she expected.
“Everything just came into place,” said Dewese. “It was very humbling and honoring…It was like a family reunion to see [relatives] and to see that support because we all grew up hearing the stories about my uncle. We knew about his basketball accomplishments. Now, we continue the story.”
“The players realized, ‘This guy paved the way for me to be here,’” said Womack. “The family got to meet all the players. Our guys were appreciative to the family for what Levi did in terms of opening up the doors. He was an excellent student-athlete…and an unsung hero.”
From here forward, the first game every February, Black History Month, will be the Levi Bough game. “All the teams from now and forever at St. Francis will know who Levi Bough is,” said Womack. “That cements his legacy.”