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Mizzou Moves To The SEC: Games Of Change And The Social Power Of Sport

Monday: Mississippi State Football Caught In The Undertow
Tuesday: Bulldog Basketball Worthy Of The Big Screen
Wednesday: The Closers Talk Mississippi State, Part I
Wednesday: Rock M Roundtable
Thursday: Mississippi State's Other Sports Are Not Great
Thursday: The Closers Talk Mississippi State, Part II

Racism didn't end when Mississippi State tipped off versus Loyola (Chicago) in 1963, just like it hadn't ended when James Meredith was admitted into Ole Miss. It didn't end that August, when Martin Luther King, Jr., announced that he had a dream, in 1964, when King won the Nobel Peace Prize, or even in 2008, when America elected an African-American president. There isn't a switch to flip for social change; it happens via millions of tiny cuts over decades. But it is worth noting that the story of Mississippi State's 1963 basketball team -- one many (most?) of us hadn't heard of until this week -- was worth a few cuts at once. Here's what ZouDave wrote about it on Tuesday:

The Bulldogs had won the SEC title four times in 5 seasons, but did not appear in the NCAA Tournament until after the 4th title. The reason for this is mired in the murky history of our country’s south, but the result stands as a point of pride for Babe McCarthy, Mississippi State University and its fans. During this time of the segregated south of the 1950s and 1960s, Mississippi state law barred college teams at state schools from playing games against racially integrated teams. The Bulldogs had been forced to turn down three previous NCAA Tournament bids for this reason.

On March 2, 1963, MSU President Dean W. Colvard decided to accept the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as SEC Champions regardless of the prospect of playing an integrated team in Loyola University Chicago. On March 7, 1963, the Jackson Daily News printed a picture of Loyola’s starters to show that four of them were African Americans. As a caption to the picture, Daily News editor Jimmy Ward wrote that "readers may desire to clip the photo of the Loyola team and mail it today to the board of trustees of the institution of higher learning" to prevent the game from taking place. On March 9, 1963, the College Board of Mississippi met and upheld Colvard’s decision. But on March 13, just a day before the team was scheduled to travel to East Lansing, state senator Billy Mitts and former state senator B.W. Lawson sought and obtained a temporary injunction against the team leaving the state.

While sheriffs were on their way to Starkville, MS, to serve the injunction, the team was participating in a pep rally the night before their departure, where effigies of racist state senators Mitts and Lawson were hung. The team’s original plan was to leave Starkville at 8:30am on Thursday morning. But learning that sheriffs would be expected to arrive at 11:30pm Wednesday night, MSU put their sophisticated contingency plan into effect.

McCarthy, along with the athletic director and the assistant athletic director, drove to Memphis and then flew to Nashville. The team itself sent the freshman squad to the airport as scheduled, posing as the varsity team. The real varsity team hid in a dorm on campus. The next morning, they boarded a private plane at the airport and flew to Nashville to meet up with the coach and team officials. From Nashville, the whole group took a commercial flight to the game at East Lansing, MI. Loyola U. won the game 61-51 and would go on to win the National Championship over Cincinnati while MSU won their Regional Third Place game over Bowling Green 65-60.

Sports tend to bring out the best and worst of its followers. People demand the firing of people they don't know because of a single poor performance when they wouldn't expect to be held to nearly the same standard at their own job. Fans poison opponents' trees, fight rival fans, and fight each other. It typically isn't very hard to find an example of sports bringing out the worst in people. But sports also bring people together -- of the two people who gave a toast at my wedding, one was a Mizzou fan who I met because of Tigerboard (you might know him); sports create impromptu support groups, sports occasionally cause you to hug strangers, sports bring oft-needed distractions from real life, and occasionally, sports can do something even greater.

People on the wrong side of history, tend to know they're on the wrong side of history. It frees them to do drastic things and take incredible acts just out of principle. When Mississippi governor Ross Barnett and state senator Billy Mitts attempted to stand in the way of Mississippi State's desire to play a simple basketball game against a team with a few Black players, they almost certainly knew it would be an unpopular move. And sure enough, who did Mississippi State fans side with? The team, of course. This is a small-town school in a town that was probably a lot smaller in 1963; following the stereotypes, you may have guessed differently. But even by the early-1960s, the anti-integration crowd was in the process of becoming a minority in the South, if an incredibly vocal one. Sports gave others a platform for making a stand.

Mizzou is just days away from joining a conference with a complex history, to say the least. That makes sense, of course, given Missouri's own history. From my house in Columbia, I am only a couple of hours away from a modern Midwestern metropolis, and I am probably closer than that to any number of Dixie flags. While some Mizzou fans were concerned about the connotations of their Tigers joining a conference with such a history, Mississippi State Week has served as a nice reminder of the positive social impact sports can have on society, both in the southeast and everywhere in the world. We are reminded daily of the negative effects of sport; this was a welcome storry about the other side.


To learn more about Mississippi State's trip to the 1963 NCAA Tournament, check out two documentaries -- Game Of Change and One Night In March -- and read these two articles: Games of Change - A Look At MSU's 1963 Men's Basketball Team's Return To Michigan

Think about this...Babe in a five year span from 1958 to 1963, won 101 games, four SEC Championships and only this ’63 team was allowed to go play in this event we call "March Madness".

The NCAA, the one we question from time to time, got it right here this weekend....Really Right. They honored Babe’s Boys and the Loyola team (which won the national championship in ’63). It started here Saturday with several events, a screening of the soon to be released documentary film "Game of Change" about the events of Mississippi State playing in its first ever NCAA basketball tournament followed by a reception honoring both university’s. It continued on Sunday with a bunch honoring both teams and the stories just keep getting better.

What a thrill sitting here at courtside as the NCAA Basketball Committee recognized our guys while the video told a short piece of the history of the events of 1963.

One by one, our guys, "Babe’s Boys" were given an individual introduction. Howard Hemphill, J. D. Gammill, Jimmy Wise, Bobby Shows, Aubrey Nichols, Don Posey, Jackie Wofford, Doug Hutton, Larry Lee, Stan Brinker, and Captain Joe Dan Gold were introduced following by the introduction of nine of the Loyola former players.

As this crowd began to understand the significance of this historic event, the applause grew louder and louder then all 57,000 were standing recognizing these two teams that not only played a basketball game but changed the game of NCAA basketball.

An even larger touch of class occurred when the PA announcer ask the crowd to share a moment of silence in memory of our W. D. "Red" Stroud, the former Bulldog All-American guard, who passed away this past week in his hometown of Lake. Landmark Game: 1963 Mideast semifinal was a game with no losers (pdf)

"They were more of a winner than we were," [Jerry] Harkness, a two-time AllAmerican, said Friday. "It took a long time for me to realize all that they went through. Today, I think that game was bigger than winning the national championship."

Loyola had won its first-round game against Tennessee Tech by a record 69 points but didn't know if its second-round game would be played. McCarthy, Mississippi State president Dean Colvard and athletic director Wade Walker made sure that it was.

In three of the previous four seasons, their all-white teams had been forced to decline NCAA invitations because an unwritten Mississippi law forbid play against integrated programs.

In 1963, the sixth-ranked Southeastern Conference champs changed history, thanks to a perfectly run play to get out of the state.

"Babe McCarthy was one wonderful person," Bulldogs player Bobby Shows said Friday. "And when he told us to jump, we said, 'How high?' We were just kids. We obeyed our coaches. So when Babe said, 'Boys, if we win it again, we're going to play in that tournament, come hell or high water!' we believed him."