Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley has recommended that the school board approve the renaming of the athletic field at Custer Stadium after US Men’s National Team and Milwaukee Wave legend Jimmy Banks. The board is expected to approve the change at its meeting Tuesday.
Banks, a Custer High School alum who died of cancer in 2019 at the age of 54, was one of the first two American-born Black players to represent the United States in the World Cup.
Longtime soccer coach and stadium announcer Tim Clements organized the renaming effort and wrote the formal request to the board, suggesting the stadium be renamed Jimmy Banks Memorial Stadium. In his recommendation, Posley wrote that after consulting with the Banks family, he recommended renaming the field Jimmy Banks Field located inside Custer Stadium.
The former Custer High School is now Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education, but the adjoining stadium, which serves as the home field for multiple Milwaukee high school soccer programs, is still called Custer Stadium.
Banks started playing soccer at around the age of 6 in local Salvation Army leagues as well as around the Westlawn housing projects where he grew up. As a teen, he earned playing time with Milwaukee Bavarians as well as Custer High School. As a junior at UW-Milwaukee, he got his first international experience playing for the US in a friendly against Canada. He’d go on to represent the stars and stripes 35 times, including at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
“I thought he was fantastic. Probably one of the best left backs I ever got to play within the national team program,” said John Harkes in an interview with Madison365 in December. Harkes played alongside Banks in that World Cup and many other matches, and captained the national team for much of the 1990s. “(Banks) understood the game really well. Didn’t panic under pressure at all. Overall, a guy you can trust, give him the ball. I was very grateful to have him as a teammate.”
Banks went on to an all-star indoor career with the Milwaukee Wave and coached the Milwaukee School of Engineering program for nearly 20 years. He also founded Simba Lions, a club serving primarily Black youth in Milwaukee.
It was that commitment to stay in Milwaukee even after earning national fame that, at least in part, inspired the desire to honor him somehow.
“I know a lot of people grow up planning on actually moving out of Milwaukee,” said Jordan Banks, Jimmy’s youngest son, who now coaches in Milwaukee. “I know that my dad, one of the things that he decided to do was actually stay in Milwaukee and actually stay in the community that he grew up in, instead of moving away, even though he had the opportunity to.”
“After Jimmy died, it was just a shock to those of us that really didn’t know that he had been diagnosed,” Clements said. “Right away, I thought, we’ve got to name one of the stadiums after Jim. There’s got to be some more tangible memorial for him. He’s a legend by all means.”
“I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s a long time coming,” said Dee Banks, Jimmy’s eldest son, who launched a construction business to fund the Jimmy Banks Academy, which the family founded in 2019. “Because (of) just what he has done for the community and even for Milwaukee Public Schools. That goes down in history, what he did, someone from the inner city that went to Milwaukee Public Schools, made it to the top of the stage when it comes to soccer. Just that impact … like I said it’s a long time coming.”
“He wasn’t big (about) getting credit for things or talking about himself and whatnot. I know he appreciated the times that he did receive recognition,” said JC Banks, Jimmy’s middle son, who finished an 11-year professional career with two seasons playing for Forward Madison and now coaches in Nashville. “It’s good for us as a family to know that he’s not forgotten, that the things that he did will be remembered or are being remembered right now. That’d be pretty cool to get that stadium named after him. They always had little stories they would tell us, about them playing in high school. I know that’s something he would’ve loved to see.”
For a more in-depth profile of Jimmy Banks and the effort to honor him, see our previous coverage here.
Polsey’s recommendation is on the agenda for the school board’s meeting Tuesday.