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Maryland football trying to do right by Sidat-Singh, 76 years later

It's been 76 years, but Lyn Henley doesn't consider it too late for the University of Maryland to do the right thing.

In 1937, Henley's first cousin — Wilmeth Sidat-Singh — was blocked from playing in a football game at Maryland because he was black. The school didn't yet admit black students.

Singh was a top player for Syracuse, Maryland's opponent on Saturday at Byrd Stadium. Rather than cause a stir, Syracuse benched Singh that day and lost the game, 13-0.

Singh, a U.S. Army pilot, died in a plane crash in 1943. But his family never forgot him and what happened in October 1937.

When they learned about Sidat-Singh, Maryland's current administrators decided it was time to make amends.

On Saturday, Henley, 68 — a retired Washington, D.C.-area schoolteacher and administrator — and other relatives will be recognized between the first and second quarters in a tribute to Sidat-Singh.

Syracuse players plan to wear decals featuring Sidat-Singh's No. 19.

"It means the world to my family and me," Henley said of the schools' actions. "I tend to get a little emotional about it."

Henley said he never asked for a direct apology from Maryland.

"I don't want to sound petty," he said. "Through their actions, they are telling the family that they recognize now that this had been done. Nobody at Maryland now was there back then."

Maryland's athletic department heard about Sidat-Singh from Kumea Shorter-Gooden, the school's chief diversity officer.

Shorter-Gooden, 60, is Henley's cousin and is related by marriage to Sidat-Singh. When she learned about the 1937 game, she brought it to current athletic director Kevin Anderson's attention.

"Even if I was not related, I would have done the same thing," she said.

Anderson said Maryland "felt compelled to recognize [Sidat-Singh] for his significant accomplishments and contributions."

During his playing days, Sidat-Singh was thought by some to have roots in India. Henley said Syracuse may have perpetuated that myth.

"They were real passive," Henley said. "They did nothing to let anyone know he was a black man."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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