Not only was he a local star at Middlesboro High School in the mid-1960s, but Greg Page was a pioneer for black athletes all across the south. He was the first of two black players to receive a scholarship to play football at the University of Kentucky and in the Southeastern Conference during a time of racial unrest in the region. He tragically died prior to the 1967 season due to what many have called a “freak accident.”
“Greg was an exceptional athlete,” said Dana Greene, a childhood friend of Page.
During the mid-1960s, Page played football at Middlesboro High School. He was a member of the team that advanced to the state championship game against Hopkinsville in 1966.
Following his senior year in high school, Page received a scholarship to play football at the University of Kentucky, an act unheard of at the time for black players.
“He was chronicled as being one of the star freshmen on the UK football team, and a lot of sports writers felt like UK was on their way to great things in football,” said Mel Page, Greg’s brother.
Mel Page explained many of the white fans in the south during that time did not want the south integrated.
“This was right during the beginning of the civil rights movement,” he said. “There was a lot of racial unrest during that time. Not only did a lot of white people not want football integrated, a lot of black people were skeptical.”
Even with all the racial tension going on in the south, Page followed his heart and signed to play football with Kentucky.
“Greg chose to go to the University of Kentucky, not to be a pioneer or to integrate sports…He just wanted to play for his home state,” said Mel Page.
During Page’s first year at UK, 1966, freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity squad, so he had to wait until the following season to get a chance to play.
“By all accounts, Greg was going to be a starter or a key player that year because of his athleticism, skill and leadership,” said Greene.
But he would never get the opportunity to play in a game. During a practice prior to the 1967 season, Page suffered a spinal cord injury during a low contact drill. The injury left him paralyzed from the neck down. The injury was described by many as a “freak accident.”
“Greg never recuperated from that injury,” said Mel Page. “He passed away 38 days later.”
Mel Page said following his brother’s death many speculated on what had occurred. He said there were mixed reactions to the situation.
“Some people thought that his injury was caused intentionally,” said Mel Page. “More felt that way than not, but there’s nothing that I know of that would indicate that.”
Mel believes the injury and ultimate death of his brother was something the Lord wanted to happen for a reason. He explained that now when a person watches SEC teams play there are a mixture of races on the teams.
“A bad situation, as far as my brother losing his life, has resulted into something positive,” he said.
Since Greg Page’s death, apartments were built in his name (Greg Page Apartments, located just off Alumni Drive near Commonwealth Stadium). A scholarship is given away in his name in Middlesboro as well. Mel Page is also working on a book entitled, “First Down: The Short Life of Greg Page.”
Page’s story also caught the eye of independent filmmaker Paul Wagner, who was recently in Middlesboro shooting footage for an upcoming documentary. His documentary is focused on Greg Page and three other African American football players who helped break the color boundaries in the SEC (Nate Northington, Wilber Hackett and Houston Hogg).
Like Page, the other three players signed with UK. Northington signed to play the same year Page did. Hackett and Hogg were signed the following year. Wagner said the documentary is still in the planning stages and he hopes to have the film finished in a year. A title has not yet been decided.
“Greg would be proud of what is finally happening after 47 years, where he and the others are being recognized for their contribution to the sport of football,” Mel Page added. “I’m proud of my brother.”
Anthony Cloud can be reached at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN.