Ken Hudson, who stands 5'5", worked as an NBA referee for four
seasons. He knows what it is to be in over one's head. At least
he thought he did. Then the affable Hudson accepted the job of
athletic director at his troubled alma mater, Central State
University, in Wilberforce, Ohio.
When the Central State Marauders, the NAIA Division I defending
national champions in football, began two-a-day practices last
August, the players discovered that their campus lacked hot
water, soap, towels, food and shelter. In addition--or is it
subtraction?--in the eight months since Central State had
defeated Northeastern (Okla.) State 37-7 in the NAIA title game,
the following officials had left the school: interim president
Herman Smith, who had replaced Arthur Thomas, who resigned in
March 1995; eight members of the state-appointed board of
trustees; football coach Rick Comegy, who left to become coach
and athletic director at Tuskegee University in Alabama; and
basketball coach Kevin Porter (a former guard in the NBA), whose
contract was not renewed.
"I'd never seen such a mess in all my life," says Hudson,
Central State class of '61, who arrived last March to try to
rescue a drowning athletic program at his capsized school. "I
once got a Delta pilot to turn around an L1011 in Atlanta and
return to the gate because we had left a passenger behind.
Turning this program around may be harder."
Central State, a historically black state-assisted college
located 15 miles east of Dayton, boasts of having granted more
degrees to black students since opening its doors in 1947 than
all of Ohio's other state institutions of higher learning
combined. And despite CSU's modest enrollment (1,976 students,
down from a high of about 3,200 in 1991), its alumni include
such prominent athletes as defensive end Hugh Douglas of the New
York Jets, right tackle Erik Williams of the Dallas Cowboys and
1996 Olympic women's 400-meter hurdles gold medalist Deon
But years of mismanagement have left the school $11.6 million in
the red, including $4.3 million of debt incurred in fiscal 1995
alone. Before the start of this academic year, all nine campus
dormitories were closed due to safety and fire-code violations.
"This university's financial situation has reached catastrophic
proportions," says Ohio state auditor Jim Petro, whose office
has declared Central State's fiscal 1996 financial records
To some extent the athletic department may be to blame for the
accounting morass. In 1995 Central State diverted to the
athletic program 20% of the money it collected from students for
room-and-board expenses. The university took in $5.98 million
from residence hall, dining services and student union fees.
Only $3.95 million was spent by the college on room and board.
That year the athletic department, which generated $833,598 in
revenue, spent in excess of $2 million.
Although such fund reallocation is not illegal, it is uncommon
to the extent that Central State did it, says a spokesperson for
the auditor's office. Meanwhile, the school's dormitories
require $71.2 million in immediate renovations or replacement,
according to estimates by the state architect, Randall Fischer.
President Thomas's justification of the transfer of funds was
that, as he wrote in a February 1993 memo to trustees, "the
athletic program serves not only the student-athletes but the
university as a whole, and is one of our best public relations
Hudson, who played baseball at Central State, scoffs at that
notion. "First of all, if they spent all the money [on
athletics] that they said they spent, we'd have a domed stadium
here," he says. "Second, public relations? I laugh. The image
people have about Central State is that if you couldn't go
anywhere else, you could come to Central. It has a renegade
In the last decade the Marauders' football roster has included
Nigel Clay, a former University of Oklahoma offensive lineman
who enrolled at Central State after serving five years for
sexual assault at the Oklahoma State Reformatory; Clay's former
Sooners teammate, quarterback Charles Thompson, who served 11/2
years for cocaine distribution before matriculating at Central
State; and Jason Shelley, a former Freshman All-America wide
receiver at Washington who was expelled from that university in
1993 after being arrested three times in 10 months. The
Marauders' team won three national championships in six seasons,
but the ill will that was created by the school's "open-door
policy" was staggering. "Not only did Central burn the bridges,"
says Hudson, "we razed the highway on either side."
Kentucky State, before canceling its annual game against Central
State this season, had lost 10 football games in as many years
to the Marauders by an average score of 60-4. During one
drubbing, Mo Hunt, then Kentucky State's coach, waved a white
towel in surrender.
Nor were the beatings confined exclusively to the field.
Cedarville College, five miles east of Wilberforce, stopped
scheduling Central State in men's basketball after some of its
players were ambushed by CSU students while walking to their
team bus following a game on Feb. 26, 1991. Not even the bus was
spared; it had its tires slashed.
Last summer the rent came due. Building inspectors closed
Central State's dormitories. (Three have since reopened.) Petro
launched special audits of Central State's books. Thomas's
successor, Herman Smith, who hired Hudson, was fired by the new
board of trustees in July after only 16 months.
In August, when the Marauders' football team started practice,
the players were housed in two hotels--the Hampshire Inn and the
Imperial Inn--located 15 miles north of campus, in Springfield.
The Central State cafeteria had also been closed for safety
violations, so the players ate lunch at nearby Wilberforce
University. Three months later the Central State cafeteria is
open, but the football team still resides in Springfield.
"Hey, I don't mind," said sophomore tight end Rob Barney,
conscious of the hardships his classmates have endured in the
three reopened dorms. "At least we have hot water, soap, towels."
Senior defensive back Irwin Lincoln says that he was pleased by
the attitude his teammates adopted in the face of such
deprivation. "I've seen both sides of the world," says Lincoln,
who played his first two years of college ball at USC. "I hosted
Keyshawn Johnson [the first overall pick in the '96 NFL draft]
on his recruiting trip, and now I'm taking a bus 15 miles to and
from school each day. But we had 105 guys come out for this team
on August 5, and you know what? Not one of them has quit."
Further adversity was in the offing. The Marauders had been
scheduled to meet Hampton (Va.) College in the Whitney M. Young
Classic at the Meadowlands, in New Jersey, on Sept. 28. The game
could have netted Central State $100,000. However, in a letter
dated Aug. 7 the New York Urban League, which was sponsoring the
game, rescinded its invitation to Central State upon learning of
the institution's financial disarray.
"Imagine that!" says Hudson, who was irate at the last-minute
cancellation. "The Urban League discriminating against a
minority group in need of help."
Hudson, you see, is his own one-man Urban League. In fact, the
only thing he enjoys more than helping people is meeting people.
Hudson, a native of Pittsburgh, moved to Boston in 1964 to work
as a sales representative for Gulf Oil. Later he moved up the
corporate ladder at Coca-Cola.
"Kenny knew everybody," says Boston Globe sports columnist Will
McDonough. "Whenever I paid a visit to [former Boston mayor] Ray
Flynn's office, Kenny was sitting there. He loves to schmooze,
but not in a slick way."
In 1965 Beantown revolved around Bill Russell, who was leading
the Celtics to their seventh straight NBA title. Russell was
also about to collect the league's MVP award for the fourth time
in five years. In the Hub, Russell was the hub.
One night the 6'10" Russell was at Slade's, the Boston
restaurant he owned, when a diminutive man approached. "You may
or may not be the best basketball player I've ever seen," Hudson
said by way of introduction, "but let me ask you, What else can
you do? Can you read? Can you write?"
Russell had never encountered such temerity, except perhaps in
Wilt Chamberlain. "Are you crazy?" he replied, shocked. "Sit
down, you little s---!"
A friendship blossomed. Other Celtics, from then coach Red
Auerbach to future Hall of Famer Sam Jones, became friends of
Hudson's, and soon the little man, who had learned about
refereeing while a student at Central State, was officiating at
the team's practices. "Kenny had this ability to include himself
without being obnoxious," says Auerbach. "Everywhere you went,
there he was. He was a low-key guy and he was a high-key guy, if
you know what I mean."
In 1968 Hudson became the first full-time black referee in the
NBA. It took only two games for his chutzpah to surface. "The
Cincinnati Royals were playing the Celtics in a preseason game
in Columbus," recalls Hudson, who officiated some 400 games from
1968 to '72. "The night before, I had a long talk with [Royals
guard] Oscar Robertson, who told me how so many players were
pulling for me to succeed. He told me to be strong."
During the game Hudson whistled Robertson for a ticky-tack foul.
The Big O became unglued. He barked, "What is this s---?"
"Technical foul," announced Hudson, who then turned to the
culprit and, lowering his voice, asked, "Is that Robinson or
"I like Kenny, I like him a lot," says Minnesota Timberwolves
vice president Kevin McHale, who first met Hudson at Celtics
preseason camps in the early '80s, where Hudson would ref. "He's
always so positive. Ken knows that life is fun."
"Watching a budget isn't fun," says Hudson, "but it's like
refereeing. To enjoy the game you need someone to officiate."
That's what he's doing now at Central State. Athletic spending
has been trimmed from $2.07 million a year ago to $1.2 million
this year. When the Marauders' gridders went to Jackson (Miss.)
State on Nov. 9 for the final game of the season (they finished
4-4 under first-year coach Jack Bush), they traveled by bus.
That is a 10-hour trip each way.
Former president Thomas, of course, had it wrong. The primary
purpose of an athletic program is not to be a public relations
tool. In early November, Hudson phoned a reporter to relate that
over the weekend the Marauders' basketball team had hosted
Cedarville in a scrimmage and that he is working on renewing
regular-season play next year. Sport is about mending fences,
Hudson says. He may not be in over his head after all.