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Hanover collector scores priceless piece of West Point football history

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Posted at 12:11 PM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 23:35:06-04

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- Pick out an item from Ron Pomfrey’s sports collection.

“Here we have a ticket to the very last game at the Polo Grounds. Baseball. For the New York Giants. 1957,” showed Ron.

No matter the sport. No matter the era.

“Hats from the turn of the century. 1890s, early 1900s,” said Ron.

Ron encyclopedic mind rattles off the tiniest of details related to the thousands of his relics he owns.

“Baltimore Orioles. Frank Leges 1954 Yankees. Norm Zalchen’s Senators,” he rambled.

The 74-year-old started amassing his vast sports collection when he was knee high. He owns hundreds of helmets, jerseys and tickets -- from the Fall Classic to gear on the gridiron.

“I hold them every day. I enjoy it. It is a lot of fun,” said Ron. “One of my favorites. The 1919 World Series Ticket.”

For this collector, authenticity is paramount. Ron relishes the backstory as much as collecting.

“Oh, no. Everything in here is game-used. You ought to know that,” said Ron. “Really enjoy researching the history to make sure it is correct.”

But one collectible sitting on his mantel has stumped Ron for 30 years -- a dented trophy nine decades old.

“This particular one I purchased at an antique shop. It was $100. That was a lot of money for me back then 30 years ago. Still is,” said Ron. “West Point Football League Championship. 1929.”

Mystery has surrounded the memento until now.

“Just the uniqueness of it. I hadn’t seen a full-sized football trophy,” Ron said.

Ron posted a picture of the well-worn keepsake online this spring.

Tim Brown could not believe his eyes.

“It was by chance. Totally by chance,” recalled Tim. “I literally think to me it is a National Treasure.”

The Detroit-based author, who writes about the early days of football, was working on an article about two photographs released by the National Archives in February.

“What is unique in the picture is that every player in the picture is Black,” said Tim. “And West Point did not have Black players till 1966.”

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The team? West Point Buffalo Soldiers from the late 1920s -- some of whom played on that 1929 Championship team.

Segregation prevented these cavalrymen from playing with Cadets, so they formed their own team.

“This was an opportunity for them to be treated equally,” said Tim.

The calvary detachment played semi-pro and other college teams from New York to Philadelphia.

“They quickly became quite good,” said Tim.

Turns out, the horsemen were a force to be reckoned with.

“In late 20s and early 30s, according to local newspapers, they went undefeated. And went three years without being scored upon,” said Tim.

Their talents led them to a championship on the field and -- quite possibly -- respect off it.

“I think the way they played in their performance had to have the white spectators and the teams they played to think differently about these men after they played them,” said Tim.

The author is digging to find out more.

“I’ve moved into a second phase, and I’m trying to identify who each of the players is in those images,” said Tim.

He marvels at the coincidence of photos of the team and trophy surfacing at the same time.

“It is like walking down the sidewalk and having a dollar bill blown toward you. You can’t believe how lucky you are,” Tim said.

The question of how the well-worn trophy found its way to an antique shop in Hanover may never be answered. But after 90+ years, the soldiers captured in black and white are finally getting some recognition.

“Knowing the circumstances behind winning that trophy adds to its value, and I’m not talking about monetary value. It just adds to the value. For me it is a magical trophy,” said Tim.

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As for Ron, he takes pride being the steward of such a rare piece of sports history.

“I looked for the trophy in some of the pictures. Didn’t see it,” said Ron. “They were there and enjoyed the football and were true competitors. So they showed what they could do.”

One of his most prized possessions just grew more special because now he knows the rest of the tale.

“Well indeed it is. The more history we can find. The more knowledge we can obtain,” Ron said. “We’ll take care of it. We’ll cherish it. And we’ll spread the story. Yes indeed.”

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