In 1975, Tony Bryant was an 8-year-old Annapolis boy who liked to put on shoulder pads and a football helmet and race around the field making tackles. His mother bought him $50 worth of football equipment so he could join a league sponsored by the Annapolis Elks Club for children under 65 poiunds.
Three weeks after scrimmage, however, Tony was kicked off the team because he was black. He and his mother then sued the Elks for discrimination.
Yesterday, Tony's lawyers announced that the Elks have agreed to pay $29,000 in settlement of the suit, with the money being split by the lawyers and the family.
At the time of the incident, the official Elks the spokeman said that Tony was dropped from the squad only because the team had too many players.
But his coach, Thomas Hardesty, who quit at the time of the rejection, left no doubt that he believed the real reason was racial prejudice. Hardesty's diary - in which he details the pressure brought on him to drop the boy from the team and the torment it caused him - was made available yesterday as part of the court record.
"I had been getting subtle hints about Tony since other coaches noticed him out for the team," Hardesty wrote in his diary. They wanted " to know when I was going to do something about removing Tony from the team," he recalled, and they were especially concerned about "the possibility of them (the Bryants) attending the sports baquent which was held in the lodge dining room yearly.
"Never in my life have I had anything hurt me so much," Hardesty wrote, "except hearing that my kid brother had died in Vietnam, when little Tony stood there looking up at me with his helmet hanging in his hand and those pitiful eyes full of whys."
Spokemen for the Elks were unavailable for comment yesterday.
In the settlement, which must still be signed by U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Harvey II in Baltimore, the Elks deny the allegations in the Bryants' suit, although they agree not to discrimination in the future.
On Aug. 26, 1975, Tony's mother, Glenna Bryant, had given Hardesty a check for $8, the only stated requirement for membership on the team. Shortly after a scrimmage at Mayo Field in Annapolis, Hardesty wrote that he began to get the "sublte" hints from other coaches.
"It was explained to me that the lodge did not want black children on their athletic teams because (the) lodge had expressed a negative feeling to them playing on (the) home field and (the) possibility of them attending the sports banquet which was held in the lodge dining room yearly," Hardesty wrote.
As added pressure on the coach, he was told of a black youth who had tried to play on the Elks team the year before. The youth's father was a naval officer stationed at Annapolis, and often attended practice sessions, Hardesty wrote.
"Not being able to send this child home as easy as they had some other black youths . . . the lodge voted to close the home field down for one year for repairs, this would keep the black youth from appearing on the home field in an Elk uniform," he wrote.
On Tuesday, Sept. 2, Hardesty spoke with a priest about his dilemma, "I explained to him what had and what was happening and asked him to help me if he could. He confirmed that I had made the only decision (I) could (make) as a man a Christian." The decision was to quit his coaching job in protest. "This made ne feel a little better."
Hardesty conferred with two other coaches, Ron G. Barco, and Richard Von Scyoc. "We agreed that if this policy was not changed we would quit rather than do something like that." Later they did resign.
Barco, an executive with the U.S. Postal Service, said yesterday that "the incident was blatant. They said to our faces that they didn't want any 'niggers' on the team, and that was that. We suffered harassment as a result (of their quitting). There was letters to the editor implying we were just out to get the poor old Elks. There were anonymous telephone calls to my home. I wish they had taken to the wall, but I guess Mrs. Bryant showed good sense in ending it."
In discussions at the Annapolis Elks lodge after "ritual practice," Hardesty wrote that one suggestion made to him to evade problems was to limit the squad to 30 players, and cut the last three children to join, which would automatically eliminate Tony Bryant.
Hardesty "told them no, that cuts were never made on numerical order, but that it was (only) by ability." He argued that since the Elks were taking $1,600 annually in Anne Arundel County funds to help subsidize their athletic program, "we were violating a federal law of our country by denying the child his civil rights . . . I also pointed at the flag and mentioned something about it and the laws of the nation, but it didn't seem to affect anyone (too) much," he wrote.
The next day, Sept. 3, Hardesty sat down with his two children on the back deck of their home and explained his feelings, "I asked them if they knew what discrimination meant. My daughter (Kim), being 11, said she did, but my son (Tommy), 8 said he wasn't sure, so I went into it a little deeper and he got the general idea."
At 5:45 that day, Mrs. Bryant and Dick Von Scoyoc arrived in separate cars at Hardesty's house. "I approached Dick and said, Let's get it over with." We went to Mrs. Bryant's car and I told her, "Mrs. Bryant, I am being pressured to get rid of Tony because he is black. I don't believe in this kind of stuff and won't stand for it. Myself and the other coaches are quitting."
The day after Hardesty told Tony Bryant he could no longer play football, the story hit the local papers. Hardesty referred reporters to the lodge's exalted ruler, James McNamara. McNamara told them he didn't know anything about the incident, Hardesty wrote.
Shortly after Tony Bryant and his mother filed their class action suit in federal court, alleging violations of Tony's civil and constitutuonal rights, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a similar suit against the Annapolis Elks Club and several members.That suit is also awaiting settlement before Judge Harvey.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, a social group that has a national membership of more than 1.5 million people, had a rule limiting membership to whites for more than a century. Therule wad dropped in 1973 after the group's tax-exempt status was threatened because of its racial policies.
"I can only hope and pray this thing can be solved in an honorable way and both sides will come out better for the horrible experience each has been subjected to," Hardesty wrote in his diary.