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placeholder May 22, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA

Children of Burl Toler in front of the University of San Francisco building named for him on May 9, from left: Burl Toler Jr., Martel Toler, Susan Toler-Carr, Valerie Toler, Greg Toler and Jennifer Toler-Fruit.
Though a knee injury ended his playing career, Burl Toler went on to become the first African American NFL referee and first African American official for any professional sport in the country.

USF renames hall in honor of football hero Burl Toler

The University of San Francisco named a building in honor of football great Burl Toler, co-captain of the school's famous 1951 football team.

The school dedicated Burl A. Toler Hall on May 9, renaming Phelan Hall in Toler's honor. Toler graduated from USF with a bachelor's degree in 1952 and a master's degree in 1966.

Perhaps the best team of its era, Toler's 1951 football squad finished the season 9-0. They were invited to play in the Orange Bowl, but only on the condition that they leave behind their two star African American players — Toler and Ollie Matson. The team refused and stood on principle against the racism of the time. The story was later broadcast on ESPN.

Nine players on the team were drafted by the NFL, Toler by the Chicago Cardinals. A knee injury ended his playing career, but he went on to become the first African American NFL referee and first African American official for any professional sport in the country.

In 1968, he became the first African American secondary school principal in San Francisco at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, which was later renamed Burl Toler Campus.

Toler was a USF alumnus of the year, a former USF trustee and a member of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. He died in 2009.

Students raised concerns about former San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan (who graduated from USF in 1881, when it was called St. Ignatius College) and his public opposition to immigration, diversity and inclusion — crucial aspects of USF's Jesuit Catholic education as well as its mission and values.

USF held a special place in Toler's heart and continues to resonate with his family, which includes three generations of Dons, said Greg Toler MA '95, Burl's son.

"USF provided our father and us with unique opportunities to chase our passion for learning and collaborating and taught us invaluable and everlasting personal and professional tools for success," Greg Toler said. Greg Toler is director of human resources for the Diocese of Oakland.

Greg's niece and Burl's granddaughter, Maurita Toler, MA '16, is also a USF alumni.

"This dedication means that future generations of Dons will learn Burl A. Toler Sr.'s name and his life story, and that his legacy will live on in the heart of our campus, indeed in the heart of the city where his many contributions have changed lives and made history," said USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, SJ.

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