Legendary two-sport Penn State athlete H. Jesse Arnelle dies at 86

H. Jesse Arnelle

A former Penn State basketball and football All-American, H. Jesse Arnelle, died at the age of 86 Wednesday in San Francisco.

A prominent attorney in the Bay Area for three decades, Arnelle was elected in 1954 as Penn State University's first Black student-body president as a junior and led the Nittany Lions to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including the 1954 Final Four.

Penn State's all-time leading rebounder (1,238) and program's only first-team All-American in basketball, Arnelle held the Nittany Lion career scoring record for 56 years (2,138 points). A four-year starter and 1955 Penn State team captain, Arnelle was one of the first student-athletes in the sport's history with 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. He was named MVP of the 1954 NCAA East Regional and was named to the 1954 NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team.

From New Rochelle, New York, Arnelle was also a standout for the Nittany Lions football team, playing three seasons as a wide receiver and setting the single-season record for receptions. 

Arnelle is still the only Penn State men's basketball student-athlete to lead the Nittany Lions in scoring and rebounding in four-straight seasons. He owned career averages of 21.0 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game, both of which still stand atop those Penn State lists, as do the season-record numbers of 26.1 points per game and 15.3 rebounds per game during his senior campaign. His name still stands by six career records, six season records and three game records at Penn State, among them: most points in a half (30), field goals in a game (20) and rebounds in game (27).

A 1955 graduate with a degree in political science, Arnelle was drafted by both the Los Angeles Rams and Fort Wayne Pistons, opting to play basketball professionally and helped the Pistons advance to the 1956 NBA Finals. Arnelle then served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and was director in the Peace Corps in Turkey and India.

Arnelle attended Dickinson Law School where he earned his law degree in 1962. He was a trial lawyer with the San Francisco Public Defenders Office and then entered solo practice in criminal and civil law. In 1987, he formed the corporate defense firm Arnelle & Hastie, named by Black Enterprise magazine as one of the top 12 Black law firms in the country, and retired as senior partner in 1998.

In 1969, Arnelle became the first Black person elected to Penn State University's Board of Trustees and served for more than 45 years on the board. He was elected as the first Black Chair of the Board of Trustees in 1996 and was honored with the designation of trustee emeritus in 2014.

Information for this story was provided by Penn State.