In Jacksonville, Fla., in 1967, just months before the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Norman Goulet was one of five Biddeford High School graduates on the Edward Waters College football team. All were freshmen. And Goulet, Dick Saucier, Stan McAlevey, Ricky Pappas and Bob Demers were the only white students on the campus.
Edward Waters College had, until that point, been an all-black school, established in 1866, according to its website, “to educate the newly freed slaves.”
On Saturday, the players from Maine will be recognized at the school’s homecoming game. They will be introduced at halftime, and their part in the integration of the school will be retold. Goulet and McAlevey plan to attend. Pappas has passed away.
“It’s kind of nice,” said Goulet, who now lives in St. Mary’s, Ga. “I think it’s good that they’re bringing us back. It was good experience for all of us.
“I’m glad I did it,” he said. “I know it made me a better person.’’
The 1966 Biddeford High football team, coached by Dave Redmond, is generally
regarded as one of the best in school history. The Tigers were undefeated and punished most of their opponents.
When the season ended, Redmond started asking his players what they planned to do in the future. According to the players, Redmond had heard that Edward Waters College was trying to integrate its student body and was looking for athletes. He persuaded the five to go there.
They knew that it was an all-black college. And, as Saucier said, “I don’t think there was a black kid at Biddeford at that time.”
But they were getting scholarships and they were going to play football.
“We went there with the hopes of getting an education, having that education paid for and playing football,” said McAlevey. “There were no (racial) issues for us.”
They had to survive several cuts to make the team. Pappas and McAlevey played in the backfield, Goulet played on the line, Saucier was a tight end and Demers played quarterback.
“It was good football,” said Saucier, one of Biddeford’s greatest three-sport athletes. “But man, they were fast. Maine football is good, don’t get me wrong. But when we went down there, the speed was turned up a couple of notches.”
They played home games at the Gator Bowl. “Can you believe that?” said McAlevey. “Talk about a farm boy from Maine going out there, to the Gator Bowl from Waterhouse Field. Our mouths just dropped open.”
That wasn’t the only adjustment they had to make. Food, for example: “We went from potatoes to grits and black-eyed peas,” said Saucier.
And it was stiflingly hot: “The football players stayed in one building,” said Goulet. “And it had one AC. We slept on bunk beds. You sweat a lot. It was just really hot.’’
Mostly, however, they adjusted to a form of isolation. It was a time of social and racial unrest in the United States. While many schools were being integrated by black students, the Biddeford Five were integrating the all-black school.
“We were treated well,” said Goulet. “The other players took us in like family. The captains (Malachi Bessent and George Engram) kind of told us what to do and what not to do.”
Bessent called it “a unique experience for us all.”
“Truthfully, it was a shock to me,” said Elroy Green, who played on that 1967 team. “I went to an all-black school. I lived in an all-black neighborhood. Just seeing them was a shock. But they were some of the best guys I ever met. They were super guys. We all got along. We were like one big family.”
“We didn’t see that they were any different from any other students,” said Bessent, who’s now the president of the Jacksonville chapter of the school’s alumni association. “They were just from different cultures and different backgrounds. Our commonality was sports and football. What happens in the game, and in the preparation for the game, a lot of bonding and sacrifice takes place. It was a natural coming together.”
Football was the bond that kept them close. And not just on the field.
McAlevey, who’s now 65, remembers a trip the team had made to play in Kentucky. On the way back to Jacksonville, the team bus pulled over for dinner at a restaurant. “They were going to let the five white guys in the front door,” he said, “but they told the black players they had to go in the back. We opted not to eat there.”
The five Biddeford natives were getting a close look at segregation in the South. “And it was eye-opening,” said McAlevey.
Then came April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated. The racial tension that had simmered in the South to that point boiled over that night.
Goulet, 65, and Saucier, 64, remember the coach and captains approaching them in the middle of the night and telling them it might be best if they left the school and returned when “things settled down.’’
After they left, Edward Waters College dropped football, until 2001. Today, the team is fully integrated, with 60 percent of its roster black, 30 percent white and 10 percent Hispanic.
Even though the administration said their scholarships would be honored, the Biddeford men never went back to Edward Waters. Instead, they set about getting jobs and raising families.
“I knew that was it when we left,” said McAlevey. “They did everything possible to help us. But this was so far out of their control.”
Saucier, who now lives in Biddeford, became a boilermaker in Boston. McAlevey worked for American Steel and Aluminum for 40 years. Goulet, who stayed in Jacksonville for a while to work at a hotel, joined the Merchant Marine and eventually got into woodworking and carpentry, working at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard before he was transferred to the Naval Submarine Station in King’s Bay, Ga.
Demers is president of the Trade Center, a construction company in Biddeford. All are retired.
Elroy Green, who at 67 is coaching track and cross country at Jean Ribault High School in Jacksonville, said he missed the men from Maine.
“If we had kept football, they would have stayed,” he said. “They got along with everybody on campus. And if something would have happened, we would have taken care of those guys.”
Green, who played briefly for the Dallas Cowboys, will be at Saturday’s ceremony. “I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
About a year ago, school officials at Edward Waters began to research the school’s history of integration. At the same time, McAlevey and his wife visited the campus. He wanted to show her where he had played. Before they went, he sent a photo of the five Biddeford players to a school official and wrote, “I don’t know if you know this, but this is part of your school’s history.”
Soon after, he was contacted by Johnny Rembert, the school’s athletic director (and a former New England Patriots linebacker). The school had tracked down some of his teammates and verified McAlevey’s story.
A lost part of the school’s history had been found, and they wanted to share it.
Saturday’s game will be the first on the school’s campus. Since the football program’s return in 2001, the team has played at local high school fields. Rembert thought it would be fitting to honor the Biddeford Five at this game.
“To have them here, as part of the first game on campus in school history, is to share their history,” said Stanley Cromartie, the school’s assistant athletic director. “The theme of the day is to ‘Remember the Times.’ So we’re going to remember their times and this moment. It’s going to be memorable.”
McAlevey, with his wife, Phillis, and Goulet, with his wife, Tina, will be introduced at halftime. McAlevey said, “It’s nice to be recognized for our role in their school’s history.”
Malachi Bessent will be there, too. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing those guys for a long time,” he said. The same can be said of McAlevey and Goulet.
“Those guys,” said McAlevey, “they were sort of our heroes. They took care of us.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: