OPINION: Frank Dowsing – His was a life that touched many others

I didn’t become a Frank Dowsing fan until after he died. Strange statement, I know. But it’s true.
What I did know about him prior to his death in 1994 was that he was a standout student athlete for Mississippi State and Tupelo High School. I also knew he was a pioneer in race relations, becoming one of the first African-American players at both schools in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
How I got to know more about Frank Dowsing was through his former coaches, teammates and others who had crossed paths with him. They all shared one common sentiment – they admired Frank as an athlete, a student, and most of all, a person.

Athlete, student, friend
In the athletic arena, Dowsing had few equals.
– He was a record-setting defensive back and kick returner for MSU. Two nuggets: His end zone interception in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss sealed State’s 19-14 upset win in Oxford in 1970. His 88-yard punt return against Alabama in 1971 is third best all-time for the Bulldogs.
– On the track, he ran a 9.5 clocking in the 100-yard dash at the SEC meet.
– In high school, he was the 100-yard and 220-yard dash champion at the state meet. His 9.5 in the 100 was a state record at the time.
– In basketball, he was a starter on Tupelo’s Grand Slam championship team in 1968.
– “Frank could have played in the NFL. He could play today,” said former MSU secondary coach Dave Nusz.

It’s academic
Frank was a standout in the classroom.
– He was named Academic All-SEC for three consecutive years, was named a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete his senior year, and graduated with honors from MSU in 1973.
– “Nobody ever took books to study on a Tuesday night (basketball) trip. Frank did,” the late Dennis Waite, Frank’s THS basketball coach, once told me.

Breaking barriers
Frank was Mississippi’s Jackie Robinson at THS and MSU.
– He attended Tupelo High under the “Freedom of Choice” desegregation plan.
– He was the first of two African-American football players signed by MSU.
– “Frank broke all racial barriers,” said his former MSU teammate, Emile Petro.
– “The black athlete was just coming onto the scene,” MSU radio play-by-play announcer Jack Cristil said in a 1994 interview. “They were under a microscope. Frank lived up to the expectations. He did excellent work in the classroom as well as the football field.”

‘Special person’
Frank was loved and respected.
– He was voted “Mr. MSU” by the student body in 1973 – a first for an African American.
– “People in Tupelo thought he hung the moon,” former THS football and basketball player Bubba Worthen said in 1994.
– “He was one of the finest guys I ever coached,” Nusz added.
– “Frank Dowsing was a special person to me, a close friend,” Petro said.

Deserving of honor
Tupelo’s mayor, Jack Reed Jr., a former THS teammate and close friend of Frank’s, approached me years ago to inquire about the qualifications for induction into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He thought Frank deserved to be a member because of his accomplishments on and off the field.
After doing the research, I agreed.
Four years ago, I submitted a well-researched nomination to the MSHOF and waited to hear if it cleared the nomination committee and reached the selection committee. Unless your name is Archie or Dizzy, reaching the selection stage is no guarantee.
I’d just about given up hope when MSHOF executive director Michael Rubenstein, who once held Frank to 35 points – he claims – during his basketball playing days for Booneville High, called this summer to tell me Frank would be inducted in the Class of 2010.
It’s an honor long overdue, but one very much appreciated by the Dowsing family, his former coaches, teammates and two of his biggest fans – Jack Reed Jr. and this writer.

Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or gene.phelps@djournal.com

Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal