Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Nickname: “The Rifles”
Colors: Ivory, Varsity Red, College Blue
Manager: Jim Dorsey, Cumberland Posey, Jr.
The Monticello-Delaney Rifles were one of the top all-black basketball teams in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1910s.
Their formation as a team was actually football-related. That’s because two of Cumberland Posey, Jr.’s players on the world champion Monticello Athletic Association team he formed in 1911—Jim Dorsey and Sellers Hall—also belonged to the all-black Delaney Rifles Athletic Club, a tough semi-pro football team that dominated the local sandlot circuit.Dorsey also worked for the city’s Recreation Department and had keys to Washington Park Field House in the Lower Hill District, Pittsburgh’s only public gymnasium with a full basketball court, so he was a key ally for Posey.
The court was only available two nights a week, for two hours, and according to Posey, “every colored boy in Allegheny County who owned a pair of rubber soled shoes was on the floor at the same time.” Dorsey was the answer: he let in his friends after hours for practices three nights a week, with the Monticellos scrimmaging against the Delaneys.
Soon the teams realized they might as well just merge into one: the Monticello-Delaney Rifles.
The original Delaney Rifles A.C. was a paramilitary organization loosely named after Martin Delany, the first black commissioned officer in Lincoln’s Union Army, who was a contemporary of Fredrick Douglass and who is recognized as the father of Black Nationalism.
Riding the national prominence Cum Posey had built up with his world champion Monticellos, the Rifles played against top African American teams as well as an array of white teams throughout Western Pennsylvania from 1915 through the end of World War I.
During this time, Posey also initiated the legendary rivalry between his Rifles (and later the Loendi Big Five) teams and two local white basketball powerhouses, the Second Story Morrys and the Coffey Club. Both, incidentally, were all-Jewish teams. This was no coincidence since the city’s Hill District was predominantly Jewish and African American at the time.
But the Rifles never won the Colored Basketball World’s Championship, primarily because their star player, Posey, simultaneously played varsity basketball for Duquesne University.
Although Posey played as a “ringer” using an alias, “Posey Cumbert,” probably with the full knowledge of school officials, he was the team’s leading scorer for three consecutive seasons. He was also the starting centerfielder for the Dukes’ varsity baseball team. The real Posey simply couldn’t make every Rifles game. However, his collegiate contributions eventually got him enshrined in the Duquesne University Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, under his real name: Cumberland Willis Posey, Jr.
After the war, Jim Dorsey left Pittsburgh to coach football in West Virginia, but returned later to devote his career to public service as Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Department of Recreation.
The Delaney-Rifles, under Posey, absorbed all of Pittsburgh’s best black fives to form the Loendi Big Five, a team that became a dynasty by winning four straight Colored Basketball World’s Championships between 1920 and 1923.
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