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Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Loyola-Miss. State to honor historic game

By Eamonn Brennan

About a month ago, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis -- our leading early season college basketball event auteur -- made it clear to the media that he wanted to do something to honor the history of a game that very much deserves it.

He wanted to recreate the 1963 Mississippi State-Loyola NCAA tournament Mideast Regional semifinal in Michigan State's old Jenisen Field House, site of the original. That game only occurred because an all-white Mississippi State team defied the staunch segregationist governor, Ross Barnett,* who very much did not want one of its state university basketball teams competing against teams with non-white players. The governor tried to prevent the Bulldogs from leaving the state, and the state of Mississippi filed an injunction designed to keep the Bulldogs within its own borders. But the team courageously snuck out anyway. It lost 61-51 to eventual national champion Loyola in East Lansing, Mich. that day. But by the opening tip, it had won a far greater victory.

Ross Barnett
Miss. Gov. Ross Barnett testifies before the Senate in this July 12, 1963 photo. Loyola's Jerry Harkness called the 1963 Mideast semifinal against Mississippi State "the beginning of the end of segregation" and insisted that both teams won.
That game was dubbed the "Game of Change," and it still stands as an example of what sports can be when they're more than games, when the sometimes brutally equalizing force that defines all competition -- can you play or not? -- works ultimately to bring us closer together. It's cheesy and banal but it's true, and that's why, 50 years on, Mississippi State and Loyola will honor that game over the next two seasons, per ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers.

The sides weren't able to agree on a deal to play at a neutral court like Michigan State (and the Spartans won't be involved), but the schools agreed to a home-and-home series that won't require much in the way of logistical haggling. While a one-off event at the site of the original game sounded like an appropriate experience, there's nothing wrong with honoring the "Game of Change" for the next two seasons.

As far as I'm concerned, the more reminders of that game in 1963, the better. Each is more than deserved. It's necessary.

(*Just for some context, Barnett, in addition to being governor, was also a member of the white supremacist Citizens' Council. He became famous for jailing Freedom Riders and doing next-to-nothing to prevent widespread riots during the court-ordered admission of Ole Miss's first African-American student, James Meredith. The night before those riots, Barnett gave his famous "I love Mississippi" speech at an Ole Miss-Kentucky football game. You can watch it on YouTube. The atmosphere, the anger, the resistance to change -- it's frightening. Fifty years later, you can still feel the fever.)