Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mississippi State vs. Loyola University

The Mississippi State University Bulldogs played at Loyola University on Saturday. It was the 50th anniversary of a very historic meeting of the two teams, a story that has much to say to us!
by Charlie Leck

I’m not a great basketball fan; though I do enjoy an occasional collegiate basketball game between some of the great teams or some of the more historic, traditional meetings of teams. Yesterday Loyola of Chicago managed to beat Mississippi State, 59 to 51. But, for the purposes of history, let’s look at the game between the same two teams in 1963 (March 15).

Loyola won the NCAA National Championship in 1963
and Mississippi State was their opponent in the second round of that championship. No big deal, right? No! It was a big deal! It has been called one of the defining moments in our national history of race relations. The game has even been called one of the most significant ever in the history of NCAA championship games.

Mississippi State was the champion that year of the talented SEC (Southeast Conference) and none of the teams in that conference had yet integrated. They had only white players. 1963 was the year that President John F. Kennedy sent troops to Mississippi State to forcefully enable James Meredith to become the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss. It took a force of more than 12,000 soldiers.

An unwritten policy existed in Mississippi that prohibited white students from competing against non-whites. Really! The times have changed that much. As a matter of fact, Mississippi State had refused to play in the big tournament in 1962 because of the presence of black players on the teams the school would have faced.

In 1963, under the leadership of its basketball coach, Babe McCarthy, Mississippi State defied the white power structure in the state and accepted the tournament bid to play. As champions of a major collegiate conference, they received a bye in the first round. The Loyola Ramblers won in an overtime game in the first round by overwhelming Tennessee Tech, 111-42.

The second round matches were set. Mississippi State would take on Loyola in East Lansing, Michigan. Loyola had four black starters on its team. Mississippi segregationists were outraged.

Loyola had played a number of games in the South during the season and its players had become accustomed to the kinds of discrimination that regions of the country could show to black players when they tried to stay in hotels or dine in restaurants or use public restrooms. Throughout the season the black and white players on the Ramblers remained cohesive and loyal to one another. So, Loyola took the match up in Michigan in stride, barely giving a thought to racial implications.

In Mississippi it was another thing. The infamous racist Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, was set on stopping the Bulldogs from making the trip to Michigan. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! The Governor got a judge – a pal of his – to issue an injunction against the team, prohibiting it from making the trip and/or playing in the game.

Coach McCarthy was not to be deterred. Literally, he sneaked from the state in the darkness, avoiding the legal service of the papers upon him. The game became an immediate national news story and photographers and reporters from all across America descended on East Lansing. The flash bulbs (remember them?) popped like crazy when the captains of the two teams, Jerry Harkness of the Ramblers and Joe Gold of the Bulldogs, shook hands at center court before the tip-off.

The Loyola players remained unaware of the deep significance of what was happening. They had no idea of the secretive nature of their opponent’s departure from Mississippi. They had no idea how big an event the center-court handshake was. The general, pre-game consensus was that Loyola would win the game going away. It turned out to be a close, hard-fought game that Loyola only broke open in the closing minutes (61-51).

The game itself has been called “the beginning of the end of segregation in college sports” [Mark Hollins, Michigan State Director of Athletics at the time his university hosted the game).

Members of both 1963 teams were in attendance last night for the game in Chicago between the two schools.

The video that follows is only 4 minutes long. It’s very much worth your time to watch it. I was rather moved by it.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the history lesson. I hope that 40 years from now some blogger will be writing about how Obama took on the gun lobby.