Sid Oglesby is a true gem in U.S. gymnastics history. Thank you to Abie Grossfeld for sharing this story with us!
Sid was the first-ever black NCAA gymnastics champion in 1964, winning the vault title for Syracuse. He has gone on to have a successful career in public service.
Sid’s entry into gymnastics isn’t your typical story. He started the sport at around age 14 or 15 after losing a bet. He met with racial injustices and hardship throughout his life, and among his many sports accomplishments, he also successfully advocated to ban Syracuse University’s interscholastic competition with segregated schools in the 1960s.
Here’s an excerpt from a story about Sid published on syracuse.com:
Oglesby chose Syracuse over Michigan and West Point because an Italian-American friend had come to compete here. He arrived in Syracuse with $300 and a Bible. He quickly befriended his roommate, John Chuck Harmon, a black football player from Philadelphia.
Syracuse — a city he grew to love — reflected the social issues of the time. Only two fraternities opened parties to blacks.
Independently, Oglesby and Harmon recalled exactly how many African-Americans were on campus during their college years: Sixty. And most of the men were athletes. Oglesby was the only black athlete among the dozen on the gymnastics team.
“We lived a very isolated life,” Oglesby recalls. “It was clearly a segregated campus.”
Instead of becoming resentful, Oglesby turned toward self-improvement. “I went on a rampage of studying, learning, improving myself,” he says.
His gymnastics prowess quickly proved itself. Sophomore year, Oglesby won the Eastern championship in long horse and parallel bars. He competed in Pittsburgh for the national championship. He slipped up in parallel bars, but thought he’d won the long horse. The judges had made a mistake: one other gymnast hadn’t had his turn. The competitor turned in a strong performance and beat Oglesby by 0.12 point.
The next year, Oglesby left nothing to chance in Los Angeles: he won the championship in long horse with a score of 9.75 — beating his closest opponent by 0.48 point.
Take the time to read the full story about his extraordinary journey here.