John T. Chandler, 1937

Photograph of John T. Chandler in Rutgers football uniform

Photograph of John T. Chandler practicing football at Rutgers.

John Thomas Chandler was born on January 3, 1915, in Virgilina, a tiny town in Virginia at the border with North Carolina. His family moved up north with the first wave of the Great Migration and settled in Fanwood, New Jersey. 

Chandler arrived as a freshman at Rutgers in 1933 and immediately distinguished himself as a star athlete, especially on the recently established 150-pound football team (also called “lightweight football” at the time and now known as “sprint football”). He was known to friends and teammates as “Pomp” Chandler (a nickname he inherited from his father Arthur Chandler). Standing at 5 foot 7 and weighing in at about 130 pounds, Pomp Chandler could outrun anyone on the field. Chandler helped the lightweight football team obtain a perfect season in 1933 and scored the majority of the touchdowns for the season. He was also a member of the track, basketball, and baseball teams.

While he dominated the lightweight football field, his best sport—and his true passion—was tennis. Yet due to racial discrimination in the sport, Chandler was excluded from representing Rutgers on the tennis court. In fact, opportunities for African American tennis players were extremely limited. Chandler helped white students hone their skills by playing friendly matches at varsity tennis practice. College friends recalled years later that Chandler never even dropped a set against the varsity players, let alone lose a match, and lamented that Chandler’s true talent and his chance at athletic greatness had been wasted.

John Chandler left Rutgers after his junior year in 1936 (because of this, he is listed in some Rutgers records as a ‘36 student, but his correct affiliation appears to be with the class that graduated in ‘37). While Chandler did not graduate from Rutgers, instead graduating from Michigan State, he went on to become a physical education teacher in Edison, New Jersey, where he coached tennis and trained generations of athletes. He worked for many years at the Wardlaw-Hartridge School until he passed away in 1978.

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Tribute to teacher John Chandler in the Wardlaw-Hartridge School yearbook

Tribute to John T. Chandler in the Wardlaw-Hartridge School yearbook in 1979