Stewart, Leslie Lee, Sr. "Les"(born: April 16, 1940 - died: April 6, 1995)
Les Stewart was a 6-foot guard on the Villa Madonna College basketball team in downtown Covington, KY. Stewart was the first African American basketball player (1959-1963) at Villa Madonna College and the first African American to graduate. He was NOT the first African American student at Villa Madonna. Lois Butler, an African American woman, was enrolled in the school 1955-1957 (see Moreover: Thomas More University (Villa Madonna College) and the "Day Law," January 27, 2022, a Thomas More University press release webpage).
The school is now named Thomas More University located in Crestview Hills, KY. When it was named Villa Madonna, the school basketball team won the 1959 Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship (KIAC). Les Stewart graduated in 1963 with a degree in general business. An overview of his college playing career is included in Raymond G. Herbert's 2023 newspaper article in the Northern Kentucky Tribune.
Les Stewart came to Villa Madonna in the fall of 1959 after graduating from William Grant High School in Covington, KY. He had played guard and forward on his high school basketball team. He played guard on the Villa Madonna team. Stewart was on the freshman team and was moved to the varsity team and became a starter when teammate Ron Lagenbrunner was injured. The Villa Madonna basketball team played its home games at Covington Catholic High School. The basketball program had been revived at Villa Madonna in 1954 after the Korean War.
Five years later, at the end of 1959, the Villa Madonna basketball team was one of the top teams in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC). The team defeated Transylvania College 79-63 for the top spot in the conference. It was Villa Madonna's third consecutive KIAC championship. The team was chosen to participate in the NAIA Tournament where the Villa Madonna team held their own. They were runners up in the NAIA Tip-Off Tournament in Nashville, TN, losing to Tennessee Tech 93-64. During Les Stewart's senior year at Villa Madonna, in January of 1963, the team was tied for second place with Transylvania College (now Transylvania University) in the number of KIAC basketball championships. Both schools had a 4-2 record. Bellarmine (now Bellarmine University) had a 5-0 championship record.
Les Stewart was the only African American on the basketball team during his career at Villa Madonna College. When playing opponents, his presence was not always welcomed. Still, he continued to be a contributing player to the team. In a 1969 interview, former Villa Madonna coach, Charles A. Wolf, gave praise to Les Stewart for his role in the comeback win over Niagara University 77-73. Les Stewart had been a sophomore and he finished the game with 22 points. After college, in 1973, Les Stewart was playing basketball with the Louisville Sters, an independent basketball team.
Leslie Lee Stewart, Sr. was born in Covington, KY, the son of Kaiser W. and Ethel Ford Stewart. He died in Cincinnati, OH, and is buried there in the Spring Grove Cemetery.
Sources: Herbert, Raymond G., "Our Rich History: Men’s basketball through history of Villa Madonna, Thomas More College/University," Northern Kentucky Tribune, 02/06/2023 (online); "Varsity-Frosh tilt opens rebel season," The Post & Times-Star, 11/18/1959, p.8; "Rebs, Transy vie for KIAC top spot," The Post & Times-Star, 12/23/1959, p.3; "Cards, Villa post wins Wednesday," The Park City Daily News, 12/24/1959, p.21; "Morehead, Bellarmine, shaky picks over Western, Transy," Lexington Leader, 01/16/1963, p.10; Charley Wolf, "Wolf recalls a big win over Niagara," The Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/16/1969, p.50; "Bryant, Argento lead Marathon Oil victory," Sunday Herald-Leader, 01/28/1973, p.38; see History of Thomas More University & Villa Madonna College.