Greg Page: A dream cut short, but a legacy that shines bright

Published: Feb. 8, 2016 at 12:01 AM EST
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Greg Page helped tear down racial barriers in the mid-20th century, only to have his dream cut short.

Those who knew Greg Page, call him a trail blazer.

"Seeing the way the game of football has changed, and all athletics have changed; it's really remarkable that he was a pioneer in doing that,” said Dana Greene, Page’s childhood neighbor.

60 years ago, one block of Worcester Avenue was fully occupied by African American families.

Greg Page and his family lived on the corner of Worcester and 26th.

"The road was unpaved. We would get out there and play baseball and football with our white friends,” explained Mel Page, Greg Page’s brother.

The school system remained segregated until 1964.

"From my perspective, it was, 'Why didn't this happen sooner? This is just the way it should be,’” said Greene.

After a brilliant high school career at Middlesboro, Page signed to play at the University of Kentucky.

He, and his eventual college roommate, Nate Northington, from Louisville, became the first black players, to ever sign with an SEC school.

"He welcomed the challenge, but I always felt like he primarily wanted to be an athlete. This extra recognition that came with being one of the first black athletes in the south. He took that on, but I don't think that's what he was after,” said Greene.

This was during a time, when freshmen, were still ineligible, to play varsity college football.

Page did play on the cats' freshman team, however, and led the team in tackles.

"He was driven. He had that fire in his belly. Most people in the area at the time believed that Greg would have been one of the athletes playing on Sunday afternoon,” said Greene.

In 1967, just a month before he would suit up for his first varsity game, tragedy blind-sided Page, when he was injured during a drill at practice.

Kentucky's athletics’ spokesman, at the time, told a local newspaper that it was a "freak" accident.

Greg page was paralyzed from the neck down, and hospitalized for 38 days.

"On 9/28, my mom called. I spoke to her, and she said Greg's not doing well,” said Mel Page.

On September 29th, 1967, Greg Page died, at the age of 19.

"Sadness and disappointment. There was so much hope and promise,” said Greene.

One day later, Kentucky would play Ole Miss.

That's when page's roommate and best friend, became the first black player to play at Kentucky.

But for Northington, stepping on the field was a solitary moment.

"Nate left the team during the 1967 season after Greg died. He had a hard time dealing with losing his best friend,” explained Greene.

He was a pall-bearer, at Page's funeral; what some say, was, to this day, one of the most highly-attended funerals, ever in Middlesboro.

"His death gelled, not only the little town of Middlesboro, Kentucky, but also the state of Kentucky and the United States,” said Mel Page.

It’s a story of one man's passion, which opened a door for thousands of others.

Greg page is not alive to tell that story, but on Friday nights in the fall, his legacy still shines bright.

Page, Northington, and two other African American players who followed in their footsteps, will be honored with statues, this fall, outside Commonwealth Stadium.