Meet Cleo Vaughn
"He was a very popular kid, above average student," recalled lifelong friend Dr.
Ron Bell, a high school basketball teammate, during a telephone interview. "He
was class president, though the school was more than 90 percent white. That's
the kind of guy he was. "Baseball may have been his best sport – he was a
marvelous hitter – but he was very good in football and basketball too. We had
some good basketball players, but Cleo was our highest scorer and best
rebounder, the key to our team. He broke his jaw in the tournament sophomore
year and played wearing a boxing guard. We lost in the regional finals twice, to
state champion Columbus East in 1951, and to Toledo Central Catholic in 1952.
"He was a delight to be with, meshed with the team well. When I look back, he
was not a big part of my life, other than basketball. In later life we would talk a
couple of times a year, exchange family pictures," Bell concluded. Even though
classes had started, Taylor convinced head coach Floyd Stahl to make one last
attempt to bring Vaughn to campus, so they drove up State Route 33 in the fall of
"When they came to see me, they told me about Ray Tomlin," recalled Vaughn,
shortly before his death on June 29, 2010. "Floyd Stahl said, "You will be our first
two black basketball players at Ohio State, and we expect you to contribute very
well to the team." "I turned them down flat. I was from a poor family. It was just my
mom and me. I wanted to help my mom, and had a pretty good job washing
buses with Superior Coach Company. But when my mom and grandmother found
out I had a chance to go to college, I was on my way. They decided quickly and I
had to hurry, because classes had already started," Vaughn smiled.
In an ironic aside to the story, as his graduation approached in 1950, Fred Taylor had
sought a position as a high school coach. He was disappointed that the position at
Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, did not work out, but had a good interview
with the Superintendent of Schools in Lima and was promised the job, pending
board approval. Then a penny postcard arrived in the mail, saying that the board
wanted someone with experience for the Lima Central position. So, Taylor gave
himself three years to make the major leagues in baseball. When he could not get
past all–star Mickey Vernon, he returned to Ohio State. Had Taylor been named the
Lima Central coach, he would have coached Vaughn in high school. Who knows
what else would have happened? Several careers might have been very different...
Continue Cleo's Journey
Today Vaughn would be described as at least a four-star recruit. One service
selected him third team all-state, another second, a third had him first team,
where he was the third highest scorer behind Robin Freeman and Bevo Francis.
He was tough, at 6-2 a great leaper ("Dunking was considered showing off," he
commented), had an engaging personality, and was a qualified student with no
off-court problems. After Vaughn scored 25 points in a state tournament game his
junior year, Lou Berliner wrote "Several of his shots were of the sensational type"
in The Columbus Dispatch. In 1952, Vaughn almost slipped through the cracks
and did not get a chance at college. Sort of makes one wonder how many African-
American kids did not get a chance in the 1950s, or 1960s, or 1940s, or 1970s,