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Games of Change - A Look At MSU's 1963 Men's Basketball Team's Return To Michigan

Courtesy: hailstate.com  
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It’s been 45 years since most of the guys have come back to the state of Michigan...they came this weekend with no fanfare...no flashbulbs, but what a reunion of what has now been determined as one of the top 25 events in NCAA history.

In 1963, our guys, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State ... the Southeastern Conference Champions, came just up the road from Detroit to East Lansing, Michigan, to play in our first ever NCAA Basketball Tournament against Loyola of Chicago.

The little guy in this year’s basketball tournament, Davidson, was playing the big guy, Kansas, before the largest crowd (57,311) in the history of a NCAA Basketball Regional Championship game.  Davidson has no idea how easy their journey to this championship was compared to the experience of the 1963 Mississippi State team.

“Babe’s Boys” joined the Loyola of Chicago team at center court at halftime while a video depicted a little of the history of this venture on all four the giant TV screens at Ford Field.

After winning four (4) SEC Championships.... 1959...1961...1962...1963, our man Dr. Dean Colvard, the 12th President of our university...a man of unbelievable vision....a man of great courage, made a stand to challenge the system and allow this championship basketball team the opportunity to play for a national championship.

Thanks to Dr. Colvard, that is what this weekend in this cold, snowy motor city was all about.  A tribute to a visionary President, an outstanding coach, and two basketball teams that only wanted to play a game of basketball.

Bob Hartley and Jack Cristil have shared many stories with me through the years of the adventures to the 1963 event challenging the unwritten law in Mississippi that no school could play an athletic event against a team with black athletes.  I knew our ’63 team and the Loyola team had no idea of the significance of this game.  But, we all learned more and appreciate the leadership of Dr. Colvard, Babe McCarthy and Wade Walker much more after the events of this terrific weekend.

I was only in the 11th grade at Starkville High School, when my hero’s of ’63 went 22-6.  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. 

There were several occasions during the weekend when thoughts of former teammate Leland Mitchell were discussed.  Leland was seriously injured several years ago and until to participate.

Mike Nemeth, Bennie Ashford and I were honored to represent our university at the events of this weekend.  But, as special as it was being with “Babe’s Boys”, the NCAA also invited former first-lady Martha Colvard and her entire family to participate in all the activities. 

Even though she is 94 years young, she is active and sharp as ever asking me throughout the weekend about former professors and colleagues she remembered from her days on campus.  It was a joy to share with her and the children the total make-over of the Colvard Union and sparkling new atmosphere in the center of campus.

It was really interesting to watch the Loyola players visit with her and speak so highly of Dr. Colvard after they now understand a lot of the history and courage it took for our team to even play that game.  She was simply beautiful around our players sharing some stories to our guys about how much Dr. Colvard admired this basketball team and the manner in which that handled such an historic event.

The NCAA also included as their guest for the weekend, Dr. Richard Holmes, the first African-American student in our university and former coach Richard Williams, who took the 1996 Bulldog basketball team to the Final Four in New York.

The film, “Game of Change” should be released in the next several months.  The documentary was produced and directed by Jerald Harkness, the son of former Loyola great Jerry Harkness.  When the concept of this film was being discussed, Jerry Harkness, one of four black players on the Loyola team, convinced his son to do a film on the Mississippi State story because it was “a much better story” than Loyola winning the 1963 NCAA National Championship.

In conversations with the NCAA, there are still some changes to be made in the 52-minute film before it is released.  I just hope that they some of the remarks made during this weekend by players from both teams can be added to the documentary.  It was goose bump stuff.

This weekend is a memory of a life-time.  A time to be with my and your hero’s who are now being deservingly recognized as trail blazers of what this NCAA Basketball Tournament has turned into.

“Babe’s Boys”....our Champions!

 


1963 Basketball Team - 2008 NCAA Regional - Detroit
Photo Courtsey of hailstate.com
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