By Garrison Carr
On March 15, 1963 Loyola University Chicago and Mississippi State took the court for what many have dubbed the “Game of Change.” What some people may not know is that the game almost didn’t happen.
Mississippi State was prohibited from playing integrated teams at the time. The Bulldogs had to sneak out of town under the cover of darkness, defying the sitting governor, in order to play the Ramblers who had four African-American starters.
The so-called “Game of Change,” an NCAA tournament semifinal, took place in East Lansing, Mich. The Ramblers ended up beating all-white Mississippi State 61-51 without incident in Michigan State’s legendary Jenison Field House. The Ramblers used the game as a springboard to win the 1963 NCCA National Championship.
In order to commemorate the landmark basketball game, the schools have agreed to meet on the hardwood once again this December 15 in the Gentile Arena, in the first of a home-and-home series which will conclude in the 2013 campaign. It is the first match-up between the schools since 1963 and the first time Loyola will host a Southeastern Conference opponent since South Carolina traveled to Chicago in 1986.
“On the 50th anniversary of the famous `Game of Change’ we are thrilled that Mississippi State was willing to partner with us to recognize the historical significance of this contest,” Loyola Assistant Vice President and Director of Athletics Dr. M. Grace Calhoun said in a statement. “Loyola’s 1963 NCAA Tournament game versus Mississippi State served as a vehicle to challenge segregation and helped to forever change college basketball and civil rights in this country.”
Second-year Ramblers head coach Porter Moser is well aware of the significance of the game.
“Getting to know the story is one thing, getting to know the people involved is another. I’ve gotten to know those guys, and they are phenomenal guys,” Moser said. “I’ve listened to the stories of what they went through, not being able to eat at certain places, not being able to stay at certain hotels. The story of social injustice at the time is unbelievable. For those two teams to come together – to see that picture of those two teams shaking hands, it’s chilling.”
Moser, who is friends with Mississippi State coach Rick Ray, believed the game was possible as soon as his friend was hired.
“When Rick Ray got the job, I called him right away,” he said. “I told him ‘I need to send you this video [of the 1963 match-up], we need to play.’”
Moser knew it wasn’t common for an SEC team to visit Loyola, “but if you can come here, we’ve got to play,” he told Ray.
Commemorating the Game of Change wasn’t only important for Loyola, but also for Mississippi State.
“We’re excited to join Loyola over the next two seasons in celebrating this historic occasion,” current Mississippi State Athletics Director Scott Stricklin said in a release. “Loyola won a national championship; Mississippi State helped to make for a better way of life. As a Bulldog, I’m proud of this team and the individuals who helped move our state forward when doing so took courage and conviction.”
Second-Team All-Horizon League Forward Ben Averkamp, a returning senior starter for Loyola, was on hand to honor the 1963 Ramblers when they were honored in the Springfield statehouse this spring.
“I was fortunate enough to go down to Springfield when they passed the resolution for the ’63 team. I started to understand how important that team was with regards to social justice,” Averkamp said. “It was amazing to hear some of the stories from those guys and what they went through. I think it’s really important to celebrate the 50th anniversary.”
Averkamp also believes the marquee game will benefit the Ramblers throughout the remainder of their season.
“I think it’s great for us, anytime you have a strong non-conference season,” he said. “We were fortunate to get a home-and-home series, it was phenomenal to be able to pull that off. We’re looking forward to a great crowd and hopefully picking up a big win.”
Coach Moser also expressed his pleasure at being able to negotiate the series in a way which benefited both teams.
“Home games are so hard to come by, much less home games against opponents in the big six conferences,” he said. “We’re excited about the importance of the game, but also the level of the school. We’re trying to upgrade everything, including the schedule. It’s all a part of changing the culture.”
The Ramblers are coming off a 7-23 campaign in Moser’s first season with the team. The Ramblers, including Averkamp and eight newcomers hope to improve on that mark this season. The remainder of the Ramblers’ schedule will be released later this summer.