“Victors of Character” centers around themes of social justice


Courtesy / GVSU’s Music, Theatre, and Dance Department

Serving as president of the United States is enough of an accomplishment on its own, but there have been many instances where those in office have done exemplary things beforehand, too. 

Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States, was one such man, and his actions are being recognized and reproduced by the Grand Valley State University Theatre Department.

Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan until he graduated high school and enrolled at the University of Michigan. There he had an outstanding football career, helping to claim two national championships and an MVP award. During his senior year, however, Ford almost quit the team due to a disagreement with the university.

In 1934, Georgia Tech announced that it would not participate in its scheduled game against Michigan if Willis Ward, a Black player, was allowed to take the field. Despite numerous protests from students, alumni, and fellow players, the university submitted, and disallowed Willis from playing.

Ford, who was close friends and roommates with Willis, was furious, and threatened to leave the team if the ruling stood. Willis, however, asked him to play anyway, to which Ford obliged. 

Allison Manville Metz, a theatre professor at GVSU, was aware of Ford’s history, which is something of a point of pride for West Michigan residents. 

Moved by his story, she wrote her play, “Victors of Character,” which dramatically recreates the Georgia Tech incident for the stage, and displays the broad themes of social injustice that existed in the Jim Crow south at the time.

The social consciousness of the narrative is exactly what attracted GVSU students to participate in the show.

The stage manager for GVSU’s production of “Victors of Character,” junior Tay Terry, said she first found out about the play through the course, “Theatre for Social Change.”

Terry has worked on numerous productions while attending GVSU, but none with a storyline similar to this. 

“The story itself I think is actually really important, and I’m excited for more people to learn about it,” Terry said. “I had no idea this had even happened before this.” 

Unfortunately, the themes at the heart of “Victors of Character” are just as prescient now as when Ford first stood up to Michigan, and Terry said she feels it is important that this is recognized. She said the symbolism and imagery used throughout the play helps to convey the social injustices in the production. 

“It was an issue then, and it still is today,” Terry said. “It’s important for people to be reminded of that.”

Terry said although the themes of social injustice throughout the play are important, she is also very excited for the audience’s reaction to the ending of the play and its defiance of all expectations.

“Victors of Character” is being shown virtually on March 12 and 13, and tickets can be found and purchased online.