COLUMBUS — Just a few years ago, the life of Charles Follis and the impact that it would have on American sports, was known by very few people. Those who saw Ohio-born Follis play football, at the dawn of the 20th Century, never dreamed of his impact on our society over a century later.
Follis himself could hardly have known, when he became the first African-American professional football player in 1904, what a trail he was blazing.
When Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation to proclaim Follis’ birthday, February 3, to be known annually as ‘Charles Follis Day,’ it was the latest step on a journey that waited decades to get its start.
Follis, born in Wooster in 1879 and known as “The Black Cyclone” played in the early days of gridiron. After playing as an amateur, he signed a professional contract for the Shelby (Ohio) Blues of the Ohio League at the age of 25. The Ohio League was one of the early pioneer leagues in Ohio and Pennsylvania that would eventually form the nucleus of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920.
A year later the APFA was rechristened as the modern National Football League.
Fredericktown resident Jim Stoner learned of Follis’ story in the 1990s, eventually writing a play called “The Black Cyclone,” depicting Follis’ life. Stoner has been one of a number of people, who have worked to bring Follis to state and national attention. He was delighted with Governor Kasich’s proclamation.