My brother in-law Keith never intended to play basketball when he and his cousin Priscilla attended Pompano Beach High School.
“It was my mother’s wish that I attend Pompano Beach High School,” Keith said. “It was not mine.”
Obediently, the 14-year old agreed to help Priscilla in her efforts to integrate the high school, but only to spend the required hours there.
So, he refused to take the bus to and from school, and, though he had planned to play basketball with his friends at Blanche Ely High School, he did not go out for the team at Pompano Beach.
Then, Pompano Coach Tucker Morris saw him playing in gym class and drove to Keith’s house to talk him into joining the team.
The rest, in matters of civil rights and points on the scoreboard, is history.
Keith, the first black student to play sports at Pompano Beach High School, joined the team as a 15-year old sophomore, and became a team leader. The 5-9 guard earned the Most Valuable Player award, the team rebounding award and remains the fourth highest scorer in the school’s history.
Following high school, he attended Biscayne College on a basketball scholarship. He was the first black athlete to attend that school as well.
“Keith withstood a lot of pressure being the first Negro player here,” said Coach Morris in a 1971 newspaper article. “He never once lost his composure and came through with flying colors, both as a player and a person. He’s an outstanding young man.”
The coach and the reluctant sports hero formed a bond during those years. Asked if anyone ever called him the N-word during high school, Keith said, “Once.”
“The coach found out about it and put a stop to it,” he said.
The coach also found out that Keith had been hitchhiking to school and put a stop to that as well. During his senior year, Keith rode to and from school with the team manager.
In 2013, school boosters planned a lunch in Coach Morris’ honor. Asked who he’d like most to attend, the 87-year old coach said, “Keith Finley.”
Touched and somewhat surprised by the coach’s request, Keith agreed to fly from Wisconsin to Florida for the occasion, though he had not seen the coach in more than 40 years.
A weather delay grounded Keith in Atlanta and he missed the lunch, but he did take the opportunity to visit Coach Morris in his home.
The two posed for a picture and talked well into the night. Coach Morris apologized for never coming to see Keith play in college, and showed him a scrapbook he’d kept of his years there.
“I told him about the scrapbook I had that my mother kept. So, on my second visit to see him I took him that scrapbook and a framed picture we had taken,” Keith said.
Two months after Keith’s visit, Coach Morris died.
Their story lives on in the carefully cropped pages of a scrapbook maintained by a proud mother and inspired by her history-making insistence.