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Marker celebrates William & Mary's 1st Asian American graduate Art Matsu

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Posted at 3:56 PM, May 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-01 16:03:41-04

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- As we enter a month celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage, the College of William & Mary is honoring its first Asian American graduate with a brand-new historical marker.

In the 1920s, you’d have a hard time finding someone better at football than Art Matsu, known as William & Mary's first “true gridiron hero.”

But his legacy goes way beyond the back line of the end zone.

A new Virginia historical marker tells the 1927 graduate’s full story.

The marker honoring Matsu, who is of Japanese heritage, is one of five new historical markers across the Commonwealth that honor Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Virginia.

Saturday’s ceremony and unveiling comes not only on Matsu’s birthday, but one day before the start of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

The marker sits in front of the football team’s home at Zable Stadium, where an arcade already carries his name.

Matsu was nominated to be honored with a marker by students from Cumberland Middle School. The students, who worked on the submission during summer school, were Andrew Crenshaw, Abdullah Fulani, Hailey Frank, Jack Parker and Iziah Brown.

"We discussed who was most deserving of a historic marker, and as a group we selected Art Matsu, the first Japanese-American NFL quarterback, for our submission," Parker said. "We noted he was the first Asian American student-athlete at the College of William and Mary, After playing in the NFL he taught and coached at several high schools in Virginia and then joined the Rutgers University faculty and football coaching staff."

Lew Longenecker, a history teacher at Cumberland Middle School, said that through participating in the historic roadside marker competitions, his students were exposed to the importance of teamwork.

Matsu’s great-grandson came to Williamsburg from Maryland for the dedication.

“My grandmother was telling me Art Matsu was really proud of his athletic accomplishments, but would probably be most proud of this moment because it recognizes his heritage in a positive light," Zack Hoisington said.

“Art Matsu was kind of the first original story to bring attention to Asian Americans, but we’ve discovered amazing stories about other students who went on to do amazing things as well," Deenesh Sohoni said. Sohoni is co-chair of the university’s Asian Centennial, celebrating 100 years since the first known student from Asia — Chen Pu-Kao — arrived.

Saturday marked Asian Centennial Day at William & Mary.

Next, Sohoni tells us a grant will help him take research from this year and the coming summer and create a K-12 curriculum for kids that highlights Asian American history.

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