Category Archives: Family

A reluctant hero and his legendary coach

My brother in-law Keith never intended to play basketball when he and his cousin Priscilla attended Pompano Beach High School.

“It was my mother’s wish that I attend Pompano Beach High School,” Keith said. “It was not mine.”

Obediently, the 14-year old agreed to help Priscilla in her efforts to integrate the high school, but only to spend the required hours there.

So, he refused to take the bus to and from school, and, though he had planned to play basketball with his friends at Blanche Ely High School, he did not go out for the team at Pompano Beach.

Then, Pompano Coach Tucker Morris saw him playing in gym class and drove to Keith’s house to talk him into joining the team.

The rest, in matters of civil rights and points on the scoreboard, is history.

Keith, the first black student to play sports at Pompano Beach High School, joined the team as a 15-year old sophomore, and became a team leader. The 5-9 guard earned the Most Valuable Player award, the team rebounding award and remains the fourth highest scorer in the school’s history.

Following high school, he attended Biscayne College on a basketball scholarship. He was the first black athlete to attend that school as well.

“Keith withstood a lot of pressure being the first Negro player here,” said Coach Morris in a 1971 newspaper article. “He never once lost his composure and came through with flying colors, both as a player and a person. He’s an outstanding young man.”

The coach and the reluctant sports hero formed a bond during those years. Asked if anyone ever called him the N-word during high school, Keith said, “Once.”

“The coach found out about it and put a stop to it,” he said.

The coach also found out that Keith had been hitchhiking to school and put a stop to that as well. During his senior year, Keith rode to and from school with the team manager.

In 2013, school boosters planned a lunch in Coach Morris’ honor. Asked who he’d like most to attend, the 87-year old coach said, “Keith Finley.”

Touched and somewhat surprised by the coach’s request, Keith agreed to fly from Wisconsin to Florida for the occasion, though he had not seen the coach in more than 40 years.

A weather delay grounded Keith in Atlanta and he missed the lunch, but he did take the opportunity to visit Coach Morris in his home.

The two posed for a picture and talked well into the night. Coach Morris apologized for never coming to see Keith play in college, and showed him a scrapbook he’d kept of his years there.

“I told him about the scrapbook I had that my mother kept. So, on my second visit to see him I took him that scrapbook and a framed picture we had taken,” Keith said.

Two months after Keith’s visit, Coach Morris died.

Their story lives on in the carefully cropped pages of a scrapbook maintained by a proud mother and inspired by her history-making insistence.

Keith basketball

Convinced to play high school basketball, Keith Finley became a star. The 5-9 guard considered an invitation to tryout for the American Basketball Association, but decided to seek more reliable employment following his graduation from college. He earned a Master’s Degree in Education, and became a teacher, then administrator in the Milwaukee Public School System.


Though he didn’t set out to break any boundaries, Keith also blazed a trail for black athletes at Biscayne College in Miami. Here he is with his college roommate.


An excellent student, Keith taught mathematics to migrant worker children the summer before his freshman year in college.

Keith and Coach

This is Keith, Coach Morris and Delores “Dee” Morris, the coach’s wife. Following the coach’s death, Keith visited Dee to pay his respects and was very impressed to learn that, at 87-years old, she still plays tennis.

Mr. Walter James Finley has reason to be proud

With profound faith and a commitment to education that transcended generations, Walter James Finley came to the United States in 1897.

The Bahamian entrepreneur, farmer, and first black man in Broward County to own an automobile, planted fields and grew a dynasty.

Today, the close-knit third generation of Finleys, includes educators and engineers, business owners, athletes and one newly minted Hall of Fame member.

Like their patriarch’s, the Finley family’s rise involved determination, maternal discipline, pride, humor, perseverance, loyalty and love.

My brother in-law Keith Finley and his cousin Priscilla (Finley) Miller-Jones personify these attributes. In 1964, they became the first two students to integrate Pompano Beach High School.

Priscilla made the switch because she loves a challenge.

“I heard them say the school would remain lily white and I, the bold one, said, ‘Over my dead body,” she said.

Keith did it because his mother, the formidable Lucy Finley, told him he had to.

As the only two black students in a school population of 3,000, the two cousins negotiated occasionally hostile territory. In 1964, Broward County still had black only drinking fountains and black bathrooms, and many people weren’t anxious to see that change.

For two years, Keith hitchhiked to school, walking the final mile, because he refused to take the bus. Priscilla rode the bus, dodging gum wads and racial epithets.

“Priscilla would come home daily with gum stuck in her hair, and my mom would have to use kerosene to get it out,” said Priscilla’s sister, Carolyn Miller Menendez.

A math teacher told Keith he could skip class as long as he passed the unit tests.

“I was young at the time and I thought it was great that I didn’t have to go to class. Later, I realized he just didn’t want me in his class,” Keith said. “He didn’t know that I had an excellent math teacher in junior high, Mr. Humphries, so I passed those tests.”

Keith was only 14 and Priscilla 15 that first year, but they stuck it out.

“The one thing is, we had each other,” Priscilla said.

The following school year, 25 black students attended Pompano Beach High,  and, by their senior year, more than 100.

“Guess what? I opened the door for my brother, Quan L. Miller,” Priscilla, who had 15 brothers and 2 sisters, all single births from the same two parents. “He ran cross country and track at that school and was vice president of his class.”

Today, Walter James Finley’s grandchildren continue to do him proud. Priscilla, who graduated from the University of Cincinnati, runs a very successful family U-Haul business.

Keith, about whom I’ll be writing more on Monday, earned a master’s in education and recently retired as a high school administrator. Their cousin Dr. Eric Williams, serves as Assistant Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Wisconsin. Another cousin, Edith Spivey, a legendary coach, was just inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.

An unexpected guest added a postscript to the Finley story during a recent visit to Priscilla’s business.

“He said he wanted to apologize for the way he treated me in high school,” she said. “He said he didn’t know any better at the time. I was astonished. I said, ‘You are forgiven.”


Keith and Priscilla were members of the National Junior Honor Society at Deerfield Park Junior High. That’s Priscilla standing between Keith and the giant trophy. I leave it up to you to figure out which one Keith is. The next year, Keith and Priscilla attended Pompano Beach High School, the only two black students to do so.


Priscilla’s high school picture.

Keith and Priscilla

Here are Keith and Priscilla today. They’d both make their grandpa proud.

Priscilla, Keith, Carolyn and Traveian

Priscilla and her sister Carolyn, who live in Florida, surprised Traveain with a visit to Wisconsin last week. I jumped on the opportunity to interview them about their high school experiences.

Racing toward 40 with a smile on her face

Through a new lens

Happy birthday to the Outlaw Mary Jane and the In-Law Donna

We’ve noticed that the sweetest candy and the shiniest shoes are called Mary Janes.

And, though both have been around much longer than our beloved Outlaw Mary Jane, we think the three Mary Janes share a number of attributes including eternal style, reliability, grace, comfort and kindness.

Today, we’re chewing a little sweet candy, and kicking up our patent leather flats to celebrate the birthday of our favorite Mary Jane.

It won’t be her most memorable birthday, not by a long shot.

That honor might belong to her third birthday, sweetly noted by her mother in an intimidatingly well-kept baby book. That year, she “Made a trip to radio station KYW, said her name over the radio. After the first time, she went to the end of the line, to repeat same again.”

The story confirms the lifelong paradox of Mary Jane, an introverted ham.

Her most memorable birthday might have been her 80th, when the family gathered in Naperville for a champagne toast and party.

It might have been the years her husband Vince took her to Arlington Racetrack to bet on lucky No. 8 and steal a couple of hours away from their growing family.

Or the years her mother decorated the dining room table with blue and white streamers, flowers and a store bought cake from Widens Bakery. Those were good birthdays too.

By far, though, Mary Jane’s best birthday happened in 1957, when she gave birth to her daughter Donna, the second of Vince and Mary Jane’s nine children.

In honor of that birthday, we’d like to take a moment to say Happy Birthday Grandma Mary Jane! and Happy birthday Donna, too!

We hope both of you celebrate all weekend long to kick off one of your best years yet.

3 year old birthday details

Here’s a 1934 entry in the well-kept Mary Jane Baby Book.

Mary Jane Candy

I used to say I was eating these in honor of my mother in-law, but, really I just like the sticky, peanut-buttery goodness. Still, I think of her every time I buy them.

Elaine's  wedding 087

The Outlaw Mary Jane loves to hang out with her family.

Grandma MJ pyramid

She’s a fun-loving mother in-law too.


Here is most of the family at her 80th birthday party.

Donna, Vince, Laura and Molly

We’re saluting the in-law Donna as well. Happy birthday to the family adventurer.


And Happy Birthday to the Outlaw Mary Jane!

This old house

A pitch perfect freeze frame of the ICCAs

May the road rise to meet you, and may you never have to eat my corned beef again

Three of the best bosses in the business

Rejoicing with family in the beautiful land of life


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