BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Four former Kentucky football players and two former Vanderbilt basketball players who helped break the color barrier in the Southeastern Conference 50 years ago have been named recipients of the Michael L. Slive Distinguished Service Award, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced Thursday.
Kentucky football players Nate Northington, Wilbur Hackett, Houston Hogg and the late Greg Page along with Vanderbilt basketball players Perry Wallace and Godfrey Dillard will be honored during several SEC Football Championship Weekend events, December 1-2, in Atlanta.
"These men are important leaders in the history of the SEC and each is deserving of this honor," said Sankey. "Each contributed change that blossomed today into thousands of opportunities in every SEC sport and in the academic programs of our universities. Those who endured in the early moments of change serve as reminders of our mutual responsibility to support opportunities for today's young people, make certain we foster their education and graduation, and bring together our communities through our universities and athletics programs."
The Michael L. Slive Distinguished Service Award is presented on special occasions to former student-athletes, coaches, graduates or administrators of SEC institutions or the conference office who have maintained a lifetime of interest in college athletics and who, over a significant period of time, have exhibited superior leadership qualities and made a significant impact to the betterment of the mission of the Southeastern Conference. The six winners collectively embody the goal of this unique award.
When the Kentucky football team reported for preseason practice in the summer of 1967, four young African-American men were part of the Wildcats' program. Nate Northington and Greg Page were varsity players, having played for Kentucky's freshman team in 1966, while Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg were new freshmen recruited to join the Wildcat football program.
On September 23, 1967, Northington became the SEC's first African-American varsity football player when he competed in a game at Indiana, then made his debut in a conference game the following week against Ole Miss on September 30. The day before Kentucky's game with Ole Miss Page, Northington's roommate, died as a result of an injury he suffered during August football practice.
Northington later transferred, but he did not leave Kentucky before encouraging Hogg and Hackett to remain and finish what he and Page started. Hogg finished his career at Kentucky, and Hackett was eventually elected a team captain, the first African-American to serve as the captain of any team in the SEC.
Perry Wallace and Godfrey Dillard competed as members of the Vanderbilt freshmen basketball team in the winter of 1966. The following year, Wallace became the SEC's first African-American varsity basketball player on December 2, 1967 when he played in a game against SMU in Dallas, then made his conference debut two days later in a game against Auburn at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium.
During a team workout in late October, Dillard hurt his knee, causing him to miss his entire sophomore season.
The Michael L. Slive Distinguished Service Award is named for Mike Slive, commissioner of the SEC from 2002-14. Slive was named the first winner of the award upon his retirement in 2014 and the award was subsequently named in his honor.