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GIBBS, Theatrece

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GIBBS, Theatrece. (Dubuque, IA, 1914--1967).Theatrece Gibbs played football at DUBUQUE HIGH SCHOOL from 1931 to 1933. While Gibbs was not the only African-American at his high school, there were only two students there at the time other than members of the Gibbs family. (1)

Gibbs played under Coach Wilbur DALZELL. During his sophomore season, Gibbs shared the backfield with Jay Berwanger. In 1931 with Berwanger leading the way, and Gibbs supporting, Dubuque won the Mississippi Valley Conference championship. In 1932, Dubuque lost only one game but finished second in the conference. (2) Gibbs was so well respected by his teammates that they elected him captain of the Dubuque High football team for his senior season in 1933. As far as can be determined, Gibbs was the first African American high school football captain in the United States. (3) In 1933 the team led by Gibbs, finished 7-2-1 and shared the conference championship. The same year, Gibbs was named by the Des Moines Register to its first all-state high school football team. (4)

Gibbs was best known in eastern Iowa circles for his speed. He ran track and was clocked at 10.2 in the 100-yard dash and 23 seconds in the 220 by the time he reached college. In 1932, Gibbs and Berwanger led Dubuque High in winning the conference championship in track to go with their football title of the same academic year. (5)

Gibbs went on to play sports at the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE from 1934 to 1937. He led the track team to a third place finish in the half-mile at the Drake Relays. He was referred to in the Iowa press with terms, describing his speed, such as the “Ebony Flash”, the “Dusky Speedster”, and the “Chocolate Comet”. The Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1932 commented that Gibbs could “run, kick and pass with the best of them” and in 1933 described Gibbs as “a sprinter with good hip action and a change of pace, a blocker and tackler of sure ability.

The University of Dubuque, however, did not have a very strong football team in the mid-1930s. Gibbs, led the team in a several key wins and ties despite suffering injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons. In his first season for the Spartans in 1934, Gibbs was one of the national leaders in scoring with 72 points coming from his 12 touchdowns. While the team finished strongly in 1934 and 1935, including an upset win against Beloit College in the season opener in which Gibbs threw a touchdown pass for the only score, the 1936 team, with Gibbs injured, finished 1-6-1. (6)

In his senior season of 1937 he returned to his old form particularly in a game against Luther College that ended in a 6-6 tie. Gibbs intercepted two passes in the game returning the first one 45 yards and the second 70 yards for the tying touchdown. Prior to this game, Luther had not been scored on since 1933. (7)

Gibbs was noted for his strength of character as well as his speed. His college captain Don Emery referred to Gibbs as a “good citizen”. High school and college team mate Bill Watters stated that there were few incidents of racism experienced by the team and if anyone refused to serve Gibbs, the entire team walked out of the restaurant or hotel. (8)

Gibbs moved east and was involved in physical education and recreation in Rochester, New York during the 1950s and 1960s where he passed away---a pioneer in American football history. (9)



1. Nauright, John. "An African-American Football Pioneer in Iowa: Theatrece Gibbs of Dubuque," academia.edu Online: http://www.academia.edu/1571441/An_African-American_football_pioneer_in_Iowa_Theatrece_Gibbs_of_Dubuque

2. Ibid.

3. Pope, S. W. and Nauright, John. Routledge Companion to SportsNew York: Routledge, 2010,, p. 160

4. Wiggins, David K. "With All Deliberate Speed”: High School Sport, Race, and Brown v. Board of Education," p. 4 Online: http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH2010/JSH3703/jsh3703d.pdf

5. Nauright

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.