On Saturday, March 19, 2016, crowds gathered at East Georgia State College’s Luck F. Gambrell Center to celebrate the grand opening and ribbon cutting at the Smithsonian exhibition of Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America. Presented by Georgia Humanities, this exhibit tells the story of how sports have shaped the American culture and community.
Opening Day festivities began early, with a performance by the Swainsboro High School Band of Gold concert band, directed by Barry Golden. The band performed a selection of fight songs to get the crowd amped up for the sports exhibit. Joining the spectators were local school mascots, Bob the Bobcat of East Georgia State College, Paul the Patriot of Southeastern Technical College, the David Emanuel Academy Eagle, the Emanuel County Institute Bulldog, and the Swainsboro High School Tiger. The mascots circulated through the crowd to visit with everyone in attendance.
The program began at 10 a.m. with a welcome from Swainsboro Mayor Charles Schwabe.
“This is a great day and an amazing thing. I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to put this all together,” Mayor Schwabe said. He then invited Smithsonian Committee Co-Chair Angie Williams to the stage to present a proclamation from the City of Swainsboro.
“I hope, as people see this exhibit as it is here, it will remind us of the victories of the past and inspire us to the victories of the future,” he concluded.
The invocation was then given by Rev. Kenny Griffin, a member of the local Hometown Teams Committee. The National Anthem was sung by Rosey Young, the Swainsboro Middle School Assistant Football Coach.
Arden Williams, the Georgia Humanities Coordinator of Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America, presented an introduction to the exhibit and expressed thanks to all involved in the project.
“About two years ago, when we were in discussion about this exhibit and talking about the different communities that applied, we looked at Swainsboro. At the time, I was working with a graduate assistant and he came running in and said to me, ‘I just read this [application] and I predict they’re going to make it,’” she said. “Our group of evaluators all agreed unanimously that Swainsboro should be on the tour. Then we decided—again, unanimously—that Swainsboro should go first.”
She then introduced Dr. Jamil Zainaldin, president of Georgia Humanities.
“If there is one thing that seems to unite our nation, the one thing that we can all get around, it is sports. It is a bit of a mystery. There is something about sports, the contest, the story of each individual, that is powerful,” he said. “It is in the heart.”
“When we talk about ‘team,’ that helps make the point, which is that we depend on each other, we need each other, and, whether we win or lose, how we work together is something that stays with us our entire life. Sports is a very human thing and the meaning that it has is very life-giving. It is the ultimate humanities experience,” he said.
EGSC’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Elizabeth Gilmer, recognized local dignitaries in attendance at the event, of which there were many.
Honorary Hometown Teams tour spokespersons Carolyn and Coach Bill Curry then addressed the crowd.
“We live by our stories,” said Mrs. Curry, who is a historian. “I’m going to tell you one of mine. My mother gave me a birthday party at the local recreation center. I never played on an organized team, and I’m really sorry, but I’m happy today to see so many women’s teams today! My mother had this huge birthday cake for me. It was a football field. There were little cheerleaders (I was a cheerleader) and football players (Bill Curry was one of those). There’s a photograph of me looking down at that cake, smiling. Little did I know that, the rest of my life, I’d be looking down on a football field!”
Mrs. Curry shared that she had attended over 700 football games between Coach Curry’s high school, college and professional games, as well as the games he coached throughout his career.
“Even if you did not play—the women in the audience—you were an important part of the game. I have seen mothers, grandmothers, sisters, who are so supportive of the members of their families that were on those teams. They became part of our family,” she said. “You form a family with the players, with their mothers, with their extended families, and that is the great thing about sports. Even though I have never participated, it has been a joy to me. I’d like to say thank you to the women who are so supportive. Hallelujah! The women get to play now!”
“More than anything in my life, I longed for my father’s approval. Every down on the high school field, I wondered if he was watching me,” opened Coach Curry. “I’d get home after the games and I’d wait. Finally, I’d crack, and I ask him how I did. Invariably, he’d say, ‘I don’t know how you did, but that Carolyn Newton is the greatest thing!’ That is a true story.”
He then quoted from the poem The Law of the Jungle by Rudyard Kipling. “Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky; And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back -- For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
“Team sport, when properly coached and administered, recognizes that every human being is equally important. Every one of God’s creations is precious, sacred and unique,” he said. “There’s never been anybody like you. There will never be anybody like you. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is; it doesn’t matter what your religion is; it does not matter where you come from or how you talk or how you think. What matters is that your are a sacred and important soul. Everybody in America is an immigrant. Unless you are a Native American, everybody came from somewhere. We all owe our heritage to the lineage that saw us to this point.
“We’re being told again that we should live in fear. Rudyard Kipling understood something about the fabric of attempting something—especially if you attempted a republic, which is what we live in, with democratic principles. Unless we can come together we’re in trouble,” he said. “We are in trouble.”
Coach Curry continued, “Kipling understood that the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack. That’s what team sport gives us.” He explained how that, when he played for Coach Vince Lombardi, there was no room for racism. “He would not tolerate a racist remark. You made one racist remark, and you were gone,” he said. “When you don’t have racism, what do you have? You have unity. Nobody could beat us. We beat their brains out. What a great lesson.
“What do the great teams have? Why do we resonate with the huddle? Because when you step into the huddle, Black America is going to be there. Liberal America is going to be there. Conservative America is going to be there. West Coast, East Coast, North, South, every religion, every kind of human being is going to be there. You can either cooperate with everyone else or you can go home. That’s what the great teams have, and that’s what the great talents have. Tolerance and love for each other. That’s why I have given my heart to this. We’re very honored to be here and be a part of this today.”
Dr. Carmine Palumbo, Dean of Humanities at EGSC and the local exhibit scholar, then presented the keynote speech, “How Sports Have Shaped Swainsboro and Emanuel County.”
His address included four points: 1. Sports are unalienable from the places where they are played; 2. Athletics bring people together in circumstances that have the potential to bring out the best qualities of human nature; 3. Swainsboro / Emanuel County has a long and storied tradition of valuing athletics and producing good teams and athletes; and 4. That we are all one Hometown, comprised of many Hometowns.
“Sports--organized athletics--are defined by the places where they are played, and conversely the places where sports are played are defined by their sports teams. This concept is central to this Smithsonian exhibit that we have all gathered here today to appreciate,” he said. “The sports and the places are two halves of a whole.”
He went on to say, “Athletics bring people together in circumstances that have the potential to bring out the best qualities of human nature. I think we can all agree that a good sportsman or sportswoman is someone who plays fairly, is a good team player, loses gracefully, wins with class, and respects the rules and the officials. As these too are the traits that we admire in good citizens, it is no wonder that those who have participated in athletics are valued members of any community.
“This is a college and community that loves its hometown teams and the teams of its many hometowns. It loves its sports heroes and remembers the teams that played on the biggest stages and won the biggest games. It loves the values that are demonstrated through athletic competition, like loyalty, team spirit, and fair play. It looks for those values in its citizens, students, and co-workers. Above all it loves the opportunity to be the first hometown to host this historic exhibit.”
EGSC President Bob Boehmer then gave closing remarks and invited the assembled to join him at the entrance of the Luck F. Gambrell Center to cut the ribbon and open the exhibit.
The full audio recording and transcript of the program will be made available on the local Hometown Teams website at www.ega.edu/hometownteamsec in the coming weeks.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony, attendees were invited to view the exhibit and also participate in a tailgate party featuring favorite tailgate foods and refreshing sodas.
Keep an eye on the Hometown Teams Emanuel County Facebook page for updates on other events to celebrate the Smithsonian Exhibit, such as the Friday Night Lights Movie Nights, Moonlight Paddle, and more!
Visit our webpage at www.ega.edu/hometownteamsec to schedule group tours and field trips. If you are interested in volunteering at the exhibit, please contact us at 478-289-2190 to schedule your availability.
The exhibition at EGSC will be open seven days a week until April 30. Hours are Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. Don’t miss this special exhibit, locally sponsored by East Georgia State College, the City of Swainsboro, Emanuel County, the Mill Creek Foundation, the Swainsboro-Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authorities, and the Emanuel Arts Council.