In honor of Black History Month: Five important black athletes and coaches in NIU’s history

By Jemea Green

DeKALB — In honor of Black History Month, here are a few black NIU athletes who have played a significant role in paving the way for past, present and future Huskies.

Elzie Cooper: 1933-1936 football, basketball and baseball player

Elzie Cooper was the first black athlete to play at NIU. He played fullback and linebacker for the football team, which is one of the sports he lettered in. Cooper also lettered in baseball and basketball, and he was the first minority player to letter in any sport. He was inducted into the NIU Hall of Fame in 1983 as an individual and in 1984 as a guard on the 1933-1934 basketball team.

Walt Owens: 1973-1978 assistant basketball coach and 1976-1982  baseball coach

Walt Owens was an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team from 1973-1978 and the head baseball coach for seven seasons. He was also a member of NIU’s faculty from 1973–2011. ‘Coach O’ won 133 games as the head coach of the baseball team. He played in the Negro Baseball League from 1953-1955. NIU’s baseball field will undergo enhancements in the near future and will recognize Owens and his accomplishments as NIU’s baseball coach. The park will be renamed as Walt and Janice Owens Park.

Tammy Campbell: 1992-1995 volleyball player

Tammy Campbell is the most decorated student athlete in NIU volleyball history. She was a four-year letter winner for the volleyball team. Campbell was named the Most Improved Player during NIU’s first year in the NCAA tournament in 1993. She was also named the Most Improved Player following the tournament. She started in 61 games at middle blocker for the Huskies.

Ashley Morrow: 2003-2007 track and field athlete

Ashley Morrow was NIU’s first track and field athlete to qualify for the NCAA Championships. She was named to the All-Mid-American Conference outdoor track and field team after her school record shot-put performance. Morrow was a four-time NCAA Regional participant and was named to the 2007 All-Mideast Regional Team. Some of the personal records Morrow set still stand as school records, including her indoor and outdoor shot-put record, as well as her outdoor hammer throw. She was inducted into the NIU Hall of Fame this past fall.

Thomas Hammock: 1999-2002 football player and 2019-present as head coach

Coach Thomas Hammock is the first black head coach in NIU football history. He is also the first alumnus to lead NIU as a Football Bowl Subdivision program. During Hammock’s time as a running back for the Huskies, he racked up 2,432 yards, which ranks 13th in NIU history. He coached NIU running backs from 2005-2006. Hammock returned to NIU after coaching for the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin and the Baltimore Ravens.