A Legacy Lives On
In the fall of 1957, University of Oklahoma head men's basketball coach Doyle Parrack signed Buddy Hudson and Joe Lee Thompson, both from Purcell, Okla., to partial scholarships to play on the Oklahoma men's basketball team. Unknown to Parrack at the time, he and the two Purcell Dragons made history as they became the first two African-American basketball players at OU.
Hudson became the first to letter for the Sooners when he appeared in the season opener versus Texas Tech on Dec. 3, 1958. Thompson made his debut with the Sooners the same season but in the new calendar year of 1959. Hudson, a transfer from Oklahoma Baptist University, would go on to play two seasons with the Sooners, while Thompson would play three. At the time, freshmen did not play on varsity.
The 6-6, 185-pound Thompson compiled nearly 100 points and 50 rebounds in his Sooner career. Still, he left a legacy at Oklahoma that reaches far beyond any statistic.
Fast forward 60 years, current OU sophomore Isaiah Levingston is walking, or should we say running, proof of Thompson's legacy. Levingston is the great nephew of Thompson and a student-athlete on the Oklahoma track and field team.
Levingston, who grew up in Oklahoma City, had parents who ran track at Wichita State University. Levingston still knew of his great uncle and the history he made many years before in Norman.
"I only met my Uncle Joe Lee once, but I know he played mostly forward here," says Levingston. "My family always tells me I'm the only other one in the family that is as tall as him. In our family houses that have been passed down, we've been the only two who have to duck when we go through doors. That was always a funny thing that we had in common, being so tall."
The 6-7 sophomore runs sprints and hurdles and was a regional qualifier in the 400-meter hurdles last season as a freshman. Additionally, in his debut season, Levingston cracked the Sooners' all-time outdoor top-10 list, moving up to ninth in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 50.51 seconds. In his first indoor season in 2019, Levingston holds the team's top times in the 400 meters and 600-yard run heading to conference championships.
Track wasn't always the choice for the Oklahoma City native, though. Levingston was recruited by numerous schools to play volleyball, one of three other sports besides track that he played at Casady High School in the OKC metro. He originally committed to Concordia University in Irvine, Calif., to play volleyball but after OU assistant coach Jerel Langley was persistent in his approach, Levingston decided to take a visit to his great uncle's alma mater.
"My entire family ran track, my parents ran at Wichita State," the sophomore explains. "I've just always done it and been surrounded by it. Volleyball was fun, I was originally committed to play in California. Coach Langley, the assistant coach here, kept texting me to get me to come take a visit. When I did, I really liked the facilities and everything OU had to offer."
Levingston stepped on campus as a student-athlete at OU in fall 2017 and continued his family legacy, not only in track but also by attending the University of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma City product embraces all that comes with being an Oklahoma kid being an athlete at OU.
"I feel like I'm representing the state in general and all the reputation it has."
- Isaiah Levingston
"It means a lot, especially being from Oklahoma, because most of our athletes here aren't from Oklahoma, surprisingly," says Levingston. "I feel like I'm representing the state in general and all the reputation it has. It's just really cool being home."
As for walking in his great Uncle Joe Lee Thompson's footsteps and being an African-American student-athlete at OU, Levingston credits his family for keeping him grounded and continuing to push him toward both his athletic and academic goals.
"It really means a lot to be excelling as an African-American in sports," says Levingston. "It helps me understand how grateful I am to have the foundation I had to give me the encouragement to keep pushing academically and athletically. If it weren't for academics, I probably wouldn't be here right now. I think that's one of the most important things as an African-American, the academics and getting your degree."
Just as Coach Parrack was accepting of two black basketball players from Purcell, Levingston carries the same kindness that was passed along to him by prior generations.
"My grandmother always told me that kindness will take you far in life," concluded the Sooners sophomore. "That's a value that I hold very dearly to my heart."