Milwaukee’s Custer Stadium will be renamed for Milwaukee native Jimmy Banks, the first Wisconsin-born soccer player to represent the United States in the World Cup.
The Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Education’s Committee on Accountability, Finance and Personnel approved the change in a unanimous vote Tuesday.
Members of Milwaukee’s soccer community requested the change to honor Banks, a Custer High School graduate who played in 35 games for the United States Men’s National Team and returned to Milwaukee to play profesisonally for the Milwaukee Wave, coach nearly 20 years at Milwaukee School of Engineering and launch a soccer program aimed at Black youth. He was only the second American-born Black player to play for the United States, and one of the first two to represent the US in the World Cup.
MPS Superintendent Keith Posely consulted with Banks’s family and recommended the board rename the field within the stadium Jimmy Banks Field, but leave the name of the stadium.
At the committee meeting, Posely said he was open to renaming the entire stadium, but said district policy was unclear on whether stadiums could even be renamed. However, board members said the facility policy’s silence on the issue meant the board could rename either of the district’s two stadiums with a majority vote.
“How great is it to have one of Milwaukee’s own go on to do such great things,” said Board Vice President Sequanna Taylor in moving approval of the change. “This is a demonstration of how our students, our babies, can go on and do great things.”
Banks’s son and nephew testified in favor of the change, as did longtime soccer coach Rob Harrington.
“Jimmy Banks is one of the greatest mentors that’s ever impacted Milwaukee. across geographies and generations. This man overcame a myriad of obstacles from Westlawn to the World Cup, and he decided to bring it back home and pour it into youth for the remaining years of his life to the time of his passing,” said Banks’s nephew Christopher Perceptions.
“It is truly a blessing and humbling to know that people are pushing for something like this,” said Banks’s son JC Banks. “He did a lot of things throughout his life. And he was a guy that really wasn’t about the credit and the fact that people are still remembering him years after he passed is truly a blessing for our family.”
JC Banks noted that buildings are often named for people who give large charitable contributions.
“Jimmy Banks was one of the best soccer players in the United States. I think if we’re honest, that’s enough to rename a high school stadium after one of our own,” Harrington said. “But that’s not the best of Jimmy Banks. Jimmy Banks’s post-playing career was a coaching career in service of kids. The Boys and Girls Club, the Jimmy Banks Soccer League, the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, and the Simba Soccer Club are just a few of the organizations where Jimmy left his lasting mark of humility, kindness, determination, and unrelenting love for the kids of Miwaukee.”
Committee member Megan O’Halloran suggested renaming the entire stadium rather than just the field.
“I think that we should really consider taking whatever steps, if it means waiving board policy or administrative policy or overcoming whatever obstacle it would be,” she said. “We should consider renaming the stadium and not just the field after Jimmy Banks to honor his legacy to American soccer to the Milwaukee community and provide this just to honor that he represented our nation at the highest level of the sport. That’s something that we just don’t talk enough about.”
“We got dozens and dozens and dozens of letters and emails from many people in the community throughout the city and state suggesting that we rename the stadium,” said committee member Bob Peterson.
Banks attended Custer High School, which is now Obama School of Career and Technical Education, where he primarly played as a midfielder. As a youth he also played for Milwaukee Bavarians, where he caught the attention of Bob Gansler, who would go on to coach the US Men’s National Team.
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. He died of cancer in 2019 at the age of 54.