When Mississippi State and Loyola University Chicago met on the hardwood for a 1963 post-season NCAA tournament, both university basketball teams took a stand for equality, integration and sportsmanship.
Fifty years later, the "Game of Change" endures as an historic moment when MSU administrators, coaches and students rejected the accepted Southern practice of racial segregation. That was the collective opinion of members of a special panel that gathered on the Starkville campus Monday [Dec. 2] to discuss the game and its lasting impact on civil rights and sports history.
Titled "Game of Change: The Impact of Sports on Civil Rights," the public program featured Robbie Coblentz, producer/director of the "One Night in March" documentary; Jerry Harkness, 1963 Loyola team captain and former National Basketball Association player; Bailey Howell, MSU and Hall of Fame basketball player who also played in the NBA; Donald Shaffer, MSU assistant professor of African-American studies and English; and journalist Kyle Veazey, author of "Champions of Change: How the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Their Bold Coach Defied Segregation."
Sid Salter, MSU's chief communications officer, served as moderator. He opened the presentation by noting the building in which the symposium was taking place--the Colvard Student Union--was named for former president Dean W. Colvard, MSU's leader when the game was played.
Veazey, a sportswriter with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, pointed out how MSU also had received invitations to the 1961 and 1962 NCAA post-season tournaments. He said Colvard had declined them because he did not want to challenge the state's unwritten rule forbidding segregated teams to compete against integrated ones.
Colvard knew, however, that not allowing MSU players to compete against the best teams in the nation was wrong, Howell explained. "He just did what was right, and he knew there'd be consequences, regardless," the former Boston Celtics great added.
Coblentz expressed agreement with Howell. Though decisions by Colvard and head basketball coach Babe McCarthy to give the Bulldogs an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament weren't easy, their actions helped demonstrate that MSU could rise above the segregation tradition, he added.
Shaffer pointed to the 1962 forced integration of the University of Mississippi as an example of how the statewide narrative already was being changed. He said the Game of Change represented another symbolic shift in the cultural continuum, as well as the opportunity to demonstrate how sports can serve as a catalyst for social change.
Howell praised the Loyola and MSU teams' demonstrated sportsmanship, not just during the game itself, but in the years that followed.
Harkness continued Howell's point, saying "It's strange that we never would have met if it hadn't been for the game of basketball, and here, we have developed such a beautiful friendship, and it all came of the Game of Change.
"The No. 1 game in my life was not winning the national (collegiate) title; it was the Mississippi State-Loyola game and what it did for America," Harkness said.
All panelists stressed the importance of maintaining the memory of the Game of Change and teaching younger generations about its important lessons.
"This is a great story, and we ought to celebrate this history, that accomplishment and the continued legacy," Shaffer said.