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Constance Alexander: The wide world of sports is the most thrilling when it involves the home team

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are most keenly felt when it’s the hometown team we root for. Take, for instance, the time that Murray State University beat Vanderbilt in the first round game of the Western Region in the 2010 NCAA tournament.

With 12.4 seconds left and a timeout with 4.2 seconds to play, Jermaine Beal’s two free throws gave Vandy the lead.

According to the account in the New York Times, MSU Coach Billy Kennedy “went with his gut and drew up a play his team had never run before, with Isacc Miles the go-to guy at the end.”

The rest is MSU sports history: Danero Thomas got the ball and executed a heart-stopping, 15-foot buzzer beater, catapulting 13th seeded Murray State to a 66-65 victory over fourth-seeded Vanderbilt.

(Photo provided)

“That shot was bigger than he could imagine,” Murray State’s B.J. Jenkins said at the time. “It wasn’t just a game-winning shot. We’ll remember this for the rest of our lives.”

As of Saturday, October 6, anyone who enters the Wrather Museum at MSU can relive that spellbinding victory via an electronic scoreboard flashing the final score, 66-65, welcoming them to Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America.

A traveling exhibition from Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Institution, Hometown Teams is on view in Murray museum from October 6 to November 10.

To kick off six weeks of sports-related programming, the museum is hosting a grand opening on the campus quad from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, October 6. Food, games, and family-friendly activities are free and open to the public.

Inside the museum, stunning banners honor MSU sports stand-outs, including Pat Spurgin Pitney, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist in Air Rifle, and soccer star Harriet Withers, among others. Ms. Withers came to Murray all the way from Murwillumbah, Australia, and was awarded the 2015 OVC Offensive Player of the Year Award, a first in the program’s history.

There are tributes and memorabilia of Joe Fulks, who hailed from Kuttawa, Ky., played basketball at MSU in 1941 and 1942, served in WWII, and then went on to Philadelphia, where he led the league with a 26-point game average in 1948-49. Fulks is most remembered for February 10, 1949, when he scored 63 points, a record that stood for almost 10 years.

Hawk Taylor, an MSU alum, is lauded through photos and artifacts, including his cap from the Braves ’57 season. When Hawk signed with the team for $6000 a year, he bagged the richest rookie deal ever at the time. Thirteen years and five major league baseball teams later, he came to Murray State for a Master’s degree and worked as an assistant coach under Johnny Reagan.

Another crowd-pleasing feature of sports with a hometown spin is in an upstairs gallery, with scores of black and white sports photographs taken by Barry Johnson.

Sports and art also come together at the Hometown Teams exhibition. “Foul Shot,” an installation in the museum’s north gallery, makes use of non-traditional objects, including bamboo, synthetic hair, and plastic file crates to create a space where kids can practice their foul shots when they visit the exhibition.

Artist Brandon Donahue designs spaces like this because he finds the concept compelling. “The installation comes from the idea of a foul shot being the most difficult and the most simple shot,” he said.  “After the foul,” he continued, “you go to the line and it’s just you. So many of the shots missed are because of the pressure.”

Other programming associated with Hometown Teams includes an opening reception at 6 pm on October 8, featuring keynote speaker Jeff Bidwell, Sports Director at Paducah’s WPSD. There is a panel discussion on October 11; an artist talk by Professor Brandon J. Donahue, Tennessee State University, from 11 a.m. to 1 pm on the 13th; and a lecture on the psychological well-being of local sports fans on October 16. Full details of these and other public programs is available from Dr. Jeff McLaughlin, who can be contacted at smclaughlin1@murraystate.edu.

Kentucky Humanities presents Hometown Teams in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and State Humanities Councils nationwide, serving the small-town museums and citizens of rural America.

More information is online at www.kyhumanities.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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