Frank Dowsing needed less than 15 seconds to impress the quarterback and coach with his ability on a football field.
Jack Reed Jr. was the quarterback for Tupelo High School’s junior varsity team that night in a game against Amory. The late Dennis Waite was the coach. The Golden Wave’s varsity coaches wanted to see Dowsing, a newcomer, play tailback.
“The first play I called was a sweep,” said Reed, Tupelo’s mayor and a longtime businessman. “I reversed out, pitched the ball to Frank. He took it 75 yards to the end zone.
“We all came back to the sideline excited and Coach Waite told me, ‘Jack, don’t get used to Frank being on the B-team.’ ”
Dowsing, an African-American who broke down racial barriers at THS and in the Southeastern Conference for Mississippi State with his athletic prowess, academic achievement and exemplary citizenship in the face of adversity, is one of six persons being inducted today in Jackson into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
A first for Tupelo
Dowsing is the first THS graduate to be enshrined in the state’s athletics Hall of Fame.
“Frank Dowsing was a great athlete, one of the greatest in Mississippi sports history,” said Reed, who spoke on behalf of the Dowsing family at the 2010 MSHOF class induction announcement last fall. “He was an even greater person. He contributed more than any single human being, black or white, to the peaceful, successful integration of the Tupelo public schools.”
Dowsing’s parents, the late Frank Sr. and Jessie, who lives today just outside of Tupelo, are both former teachers. His sister, Virginia Dowsing Toliver, lives in St. Louis.
“I hope my children realize the magnitude of his legacy as an athlete, a scholar and a human being,” said Dowsing’s niece, Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, from her home in St. Louis last fall.
Added Reed, “The recognition that accompanies this achievement will ensure that men and women and young people who love Mississippi sports will forever hear the Frank Dowsing story.”
Tops in sports, academics
In high school, Dowsing was one of the first black students to attend THS under the “Freedom of Choice” desegregation plan.
He was named all-conference and all-state in football, helped lead the Golden Wave basketball team to a Grand Slam championship and set a state record of 9.5 seconds in the 100-yard dash at the Big Eight Conference track and field meet. He also achieved in the classroom, graduating sixth in a class of 218.
What’s more, he accomplished all these feats while carrying the burden of being one of the first African-Americans to participate in previous all-white domains.
“I don’t think Frank considered himself a crusader socially or politically,” said Tom Cheney, his former THS football coach. “He just wanted to play ball and enjoy it.”
Cheney noted that Dowsing had a knack for defusing potential problems during those early days of the desegregation. One incident, the coach recalled, happened during pregame warmups at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson as the Golden Wave basketball team was preparing for a state tournament game.
“Frank was in line with his teammates waiting to shoot layups,” Cheney said. “There was a guy on the sideline giving Frank fits. He was really offensive. He kept calling out to Frank, ‘Hey, Leroy, Leroy.’
“Frank dribbled the ball over to him with a big smile on his face and asked him, ‘How did you know my name?’ The guy later wound up cheering for Frank.”
He could do it all
Dowsing played football and ran track for Mississippi State, but his former football teammate, Emile Petro, said there wasn’t much Frank couldn’t do.
“He was the star of his intramural basketball team that went undefeated,” said Petro, a Tupelo businessman. “Frank played cornerback and returned punts, but he could have played offense. They used him as a tailback when he was a freshman. I always thought they should have played him there.
“The guy was a great athlete.”
Dowsing was an All-SEC and All-American selection on the field and in the classroom.
His career punt return average of 15.2 yards remains MSU’s all-time high. His 88-yard punt return for a TD against Alabama in 1971 is the second longest in the program’s history.
He was named to the league’s all-academic team three consecutive seasons. His senior year, he was named a National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete.
“He did excellent work in the classroom as well as the football field,” MSU radio announcer Jack Cristil said in an earlier interview. “The black athlete was just coming onto the scene. They were under a microscope. Frank lived up to the expectations.”
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal