NORMAL - Wilbur "Barney" Barton, the first black player to serve as captain for the Illinois State-Normal University basketball team during the 1935-36 season, died Tuesday at his home in Indianapolis.
The University High School graduate was 91.
He was among the players on one of the first ISNU team that employed a T defense, now known as the zone defense. The T defense stationed three players from the top of the circle down to the basket with two on each side of the free throw line extended.
"We hated it because it ran the hell out of us to cover the guys in the corner," Barton was quoted in the book "100 Years of Illinois State Basketball." Anybody who played under the basket had to run from one side to the other.
"It was something better done when we played in a gym with a track around it, which meant you couldn't shoot from the corners."
The 1935-36 team compiled a 12-6 record and was popular on campus. But when the Redbirds traveled, the color of Barton's skin seemed to matter most, according to the 100 Years of ISU Basketball book.
"I was the only black on the team and we played in different places where they didn't want me to stay," Barton told Roger Cushman, co-author of the book. "Especially in Carbondale. I had to stay with a private family there. The team stayed at a hotel and came by in a bus to pick me up.
"I admired Joe (Coach Joe Cogdal). We had a manager named Potsy Schwenn and Joe gave Potsy the job of going ahead of the team to see about eating. He said, 'If he doesn't eat, we don't eat.' That changed a lot of attitudes."
Barton was inducted into the ISU Hall of Fame in 1978.