BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
MADISON, Wis. — A good book can be hard to put down. It was for Wisconsin senior Nigel Hayes, who finished reading James Baldwin's acclaimed The Fire Next Time on the team flight to Illinois. It was only fitting that Hayes was reading Baldwin since he was one of Hayes' electives on "the list."
First some history, appropriately enough.
At its core, the list was compiled to bring special awareness to Black History Month. Last February, the Badgers wore special throwback uniforms to honor the memory of UW's Bill Cofield, the first African-American head coach in Big Ten history.
Cofield was a pioneer for basketball — which he coached for six seasons here — and football. The original plan was to wear the Cofield-era uniforms, circa 1976, for one game in February. But the players wanted to wear them for the entire month, a request that was supported by Wisconsin coach Greg Gard.
In addition, the team's footwear celebrated the legacy of Jesse Owens, the four-time Olympic gold medalist in 1936. Owens, by the way, has also made the list with Baldwin, a novelist, poet and essayist. The Fire Next Time was, in fact, two essays and first published in book form 54 years ago.
By now, your curiosity should be sufficiently piqued to know more about the list.
Hayes would be pleased.
"It's definitely an awareness thing," he said.
Seeking a vehicle to bring attention and awareness to Black History Month, Hayes sought to identify prominent people in black history, males and females. Through a collaboration, the process evolved to the point where each of the 17 players and four coaches submitted one name, 21 in all.
Hayes enlisted the help of his former AAU coach in Ohio to create a pool of candidates. Each individual had the freedom to work off their own sources. From there, the list was summarily expanded from 21 to 28, one for each day in February.
Hayes was responsible for choosing the seven "electives."
"Like any list," Hayes said, "there's always people that have to be on that list."
That was his task to make sure the list was a cross-segment of doers, past and present. But he also emphasized that the list was intended to be personal, which is why each player and coach had a choice. To Hayes' thinking, it was important to make some connection to that person on the list.
There's no better example of that than associate head coach Lamont Paris, who chose Frederick Douglass, a social reformer, orator and abolitionist from the 1800s. Paris is related to Douglass on his mom's side. Some of his relatives have worn shirts with Douglass' likeness at family reunions.
Beyond that link, he said, "I just felt that Frederick Douglass was someone that had to be on the list. I thought about John Thompson (the former Georgetown coach) because I wanted someone who had really changed things at a time when it wasn't the cool thing to do. Coaching was different back then."
That Douglass encompassed so much was not lost on Paris, who said, "I wanted to do something that dealt more with the freedoms that we enjoy today, not just as coaches, but as human beings."
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