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MTSU Center for Historic Preservation
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Story of Historic Bowl Game Highlights New Exhibit
(Murfreesboro) – A new Heritage Center exhibit, “Communities, Competitions and the University Campus, 1926-2010,” opens on Tuesday, Dec. 14, and explores how MTSU has hosted many important high-school and university athletic competitions enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.
Several of the exhibit’s stories are well-known, including the many Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association high-school football and basketball championship games and when “Friday Night Lights” in Rutherford County meant football at MTSU’s Jones Field.
Other stories have become obscured by the passing decades. One of the most fascinating is the story of the 1965 Grantland Rice Bowl, a NCAA-sanctioned game that featured what was then Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial (now Tennessee State) University and Ball State University. It was the first time an all-African-American college team had played a white college team in Tennessee.
The NCAA Library and archives lent copies of the game program for the exhibits and Wayne Belt of Murfreesboro dug out what he remembered as a promotional film about the bowl game. Once the film was converted into digital format, however, everyone realized that it depicted all of the highlights of that historic 1965 game-all of the scoring, a bit of the TSU drill team’s halftime show and the game’s dramatic ending, which will remind today’s football fans of the Titans’ Super Bowl game in 2000.
Other exhibit highlights feature future NFL Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw’s appearance in a Grantland Rice Bowl, when Tennessee played Notre Dame at MTSU during the NCAA Tournament, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s game at MTSU on his way to the NCAA championship in 1979.
High-school competitions are another exhibit focal point, including the last six-on-six game played in girls’ high school basketball, and the annual Contest of Champions, a nationally recognized competition between marching bands from across the eastern United States.
The exhibit will open at the Heritage Center on Dec. 14, from 3 to 5 p.m. Sara Beth Gideon, an undergraduate University Honors College history major, was the exhibit curator. She worked with Dr. Carroll Van West of the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation and was supported by her Honors College thesis committee, Drs. John Vile and Alfred Lutz.
“Some of these tournaments have a long-standing tradition at MTSU that dates back to the 1920s,” Gideon observed “and it is the combined efforts of the community and the campus that invites these tournaments year after year.”
Gideon’s is the first Honor’s thesis College thesis to be presented as a history exhibit. She said compiling the research and artifacts for her first exhibit “was a daunting task at times, but seeing all my hard work turned into exhibit panels has been one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Located just off the Public Square at 225 W. College Street, The Heritage Center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding major holidays, and features local history exhibits and guided walking tours of the square on the hour. Group tours are available Monday through Saturday by advance reservations. Admission is free. For more information, please call 615-217-8013.
Founded in 1911, Middle Tennessee State University is a Tennessee Board of Regents institution located in Murfreesboro and is the state’s largest public undergraduate institution. MTSU now boasts one of the nation’s first master’s degree programs in horse science, and the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C., acclaims MTSU’s Master of Science in Professional Science degree — the only one in Tennessee — as a model program. This fall, MTSU unveiled three new doctoral degrees in the sciences.