Leroy Hardeman, barnstorming hoopster

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2007 - 7:20 PM

A star athlete at Minneapolis South, amateur basketball player and a member of the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame, he played sports into his 60s.

Hilary (Leroy) Hardeman, who toured the nation with a developmental team of the 1952 Harlem Globetrotters and who was one of the first black men inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame, died of cancer April 20 in his home in Minneapolis.

He was 81.

Hardeman grew up in south Minneapolis, graduating from South High School in 1944.

As a 6-foot-1 guard, he helped lead South to a city basketball championship in the 1940s, said his son Hilary of Minneapolis. He's a charter member of South High's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Laurie Balzer, who played fast-pitch softball and men's amateur basketball with Hardeman, said many people wish he had attended the University of Minnesota. "He would have been a star," Balzer said.

In the 1950s, their barnstorming men's basketball team once was slowed by a blizzard while heading to play in Okabena, Minn.

"We called ahead to tell them we would be late," Balzer said. The game's organizers only asked: "Is Leroy coming?"

A full house waited two hours for the Minneapolis team, and most remained until the final buzzer about midnight, he said.

"He just had that aura of drawing people to him," Balzer said. "He interacted with the fans."

Earlier, as a member of the 1952 Harlem Road Kings, Hardeman had two 55-point games, and during the season he played a few times with the Globetrotters, his son said.

A family man, Hardeman disliked the road, so he left the Road Kings after a year, Balzer said.

He played fast-pitch softball for Minneapolis teams until he was 64. He hit for power, and had a lifetime average of more than .300, according to a Sept. 21, 1986, article in the Star Tribune.

A third baseman who also pitched when needed, Hardeman told his son: "If my legs held out, I would have kept on playing."He just loved the game," his son said.

For several years, Hardeman was a referee for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and he taught budding refs how to do the job.

And his son recalled that Hardeman always took the time to teach ball-playing skills to neighborhood children.

He retired as a labor foreman for the Burlington Northern Railroad about 1990.

In retirement he became the head deacon of his church, Jehovah Jireh Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn Park.

He had served as an infantryman during World War II in Belgium and the Philippines.

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