New Western Pa. high school QB award honors trailblazer Willie Thrower

Monday, June 8, 2020 | 5:17 PM

Starting this fall, the top quarterback among schools in the WPIAL and City League will receive an award named in honor of the NFL’s first African-American signal-caller.

The annual Willie Thrower Award will honor the memory of the New Kensington native who first gained local notoriety by helping New Kensington win WPIAL Class AAA football titles in 1946 and ’47 after being runner-up to Donora in ’45.

Also a halfback in the Red Raiders’ single-wing offense, Thrower finished his career with a 35-3-1 record.

A committee of coaches from each of the 19 WPIAL football conferences and the City League will determine the winner with voting also coming from a steering committee and media members. The quarterback who receives the most votes in each of the six classifications and the City League will be invited to a luncheon early next year when the winner will be announced.

A statue of Thrower, dedicated in 2006, stands at the entrance to Valley’s Memorial Stadium. A hand-held version of the statue will be presented to the winner.

Stephen Paulovich, a 1979 graduate of Valley, will be charged with sculpting the trophy. He also crafted the Thrower statue at his studio in Louisville, Ky.

After starring at the high school level, the 5-foot-11 Thrower and his strong arm attended Michigan State and was part of the program’s 1952 national championship.

Also the first black QB in Big Ten history, Thrower stepped up for injured starter Tom Yewcic and led the Spartans to a key victory over Notre Dame during the title season.

Thrower, drafted into the NFL by the Chicago Bears, made history Oct. 18, 1953, as he broke the league’s color barrier for quarterbacks against the San Francisco 49ers at Wrigley Field.

Thrower, who played several seasons in the Canadian Football League, died Feb. 20, 2002, at the age of 71.

Thrower is enshrined in the Westmoreland County Sports Hall of Fame, the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame and the WPIAL Hall of Fame.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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