Black History Month: Charlie Fremont West, First African American to play as QB in the Rose Bowl

Photo and information provided by Washington & Jefferson Athletics

In 1922, Charlie Fremont “Pruner” West was the first African American Quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl. His team was undefeated heading into Rose Bowl and the Presidents were underdogs against the heavy favored 9-0 California Golden Bear (retroactively named as the national champion for 1921 season). The game would end in a scoreless tie and the only ever Rose Bowl to end in a tie. This game would cost Washington and Jefferson’s athletic administrator to mortgage his house to afford the trip for the extra players to attend the game. The enrollment of W&J was 430 students in 1921. The Presidents were the only team ever in Rose Bowl history to play the same 11 players on both the defense and offense side.

Mr. West dealt with racism many times in his collegiate career as a player and coach and a few of the games would not be played due to his being on the field. In his collegiate career, he was one of the few African-Americans players in a private college. One example of the racism he dealt with was in 1921 when W&J traveled to Wheeling, West Virginia to play the West Virginia Mountaineers and the chants from the stands included “Kill the N-word” but the crowd could not tell who West was because of his light-skin. When the team would travel to the games usually West was the last player off the train to ensure crowds would not hurt him or his teammates.

Mr. West would sign with the Akron Pros of the National Football league but quit to attend medical school in Washington D.C where he would also coach the football team as an assistant coach for the first 3 years and later became the head coach. He would lead Howard Bison for 3 seasons for a record of 12-7-2.

Post-death, Mr. West was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 and in 2017 West was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

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