Lonnie Searcy Jr., the first African-American student and student-athlete at Union University, was inducted into Union’s Sports Hall of Fame April 1 at the Carl Grant Events Center for his individual accomplishments in track and basketball.
The late Coach Bill Henry recruited Searcy when he was a senior at Central High School in Alamo, Tennessee. Henry approached Searcy after he had just finished playing in the first integrated regional basketball tournament in West Tennessee, which was hosted at Union.
“We lost,” Searcy said. “But Coach Henry came up to me after the game and told me he wanted me to play for Union.”
Until that point, Searcy had no knowledge of Union. Lane College, Bishop College in Texas and Freed-Hardeman, among others, were his colleges of interest at the time. Searcy credits his choosing to attend Union to Henry’s salesmanship and enthusiasm for basketball.
During Searcy’s first year at Union, he set the school’s record for most rebounds in a game (28), before it was later broken that season by one of his teammates.
In the 1967-68 basketball season, Searcy and his team posted a record of 22-3, the best college-level record in the state and one of the best in the nation. During that season, Searcy was named to the Volunteer State Athletic Conference (VSAC) All-Conference Western Division and was named to the VSAC All-Tournament team.
Searcy’s 1967-68 basketball team was inducted into the Union Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, and he was inducted into the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. In the 1968-69 season, Searcy was named the MVP of the VSAC Western Division, and he helped bring the team to the NCAA College Division South Region Tournament. In 1970, he was selected as an Outstanding College Athlete of America.
“It’s good to be recognized, but it’s also good to have fellowship and enjoy the moments with my teammates,” Searcy said about the induction. “Union’s athletic program has influenced my life by giving me a baseline to go by. When I came to Union, I was the only African-American here. In order to succeed, I had to interact with people in all walks of life.”
As the first African-American on campus in 1966, Searcy served as a cultural trailblazer for both the university’s community and the athletic program.
“By being the first African-American athlete at Union,” Tommy Sadler, director of athletics, said. “Lonnie opened the door and paved the way for all to follow. He was not only a great student-athlete during his time at Union, but also very active in student organizations across campus.”
Over the years, Searcy and his wife, Camille, a former professor at Union, have stayed involved in the campus’s community. They are a part of the Union Booster Club and have season tickets to the basketball games, which they attend often.
“Lonnie, had you not had the courage to step out as you did, Union would not be the institution it is today,” Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver, President of Union University, said at the end of the induction ceremony. “You have not only been shaped, but you have shaped your teammates, the institution, the community and society.”