'Game of Change' celebrates Bulldogs, Ramblers

March 26, 2009

Adam Minichino - [email protected]


STARKVILLE â€" March Madness ended early for the Mississippi State basketball teams. 


But Jerald Harkness was in Starkville on Tuesday to celebrate the spirit and the history of the MSU men’s basketball program and the NCAA tournament. 


Harkness and MSU assistant professor of history James C. Giesen discussed and presented the documentary “Game of Change”, which Harkness produced and directed. It tells the story of the March 15, 1963, NCAA tournament game between MSU and Loyola of Chicago. 


The game marked the first time MSU’s basketball program, which had won Southeastern Conference titles in 1959 and 1961 and shared the championship with Kentucky in 1962, participated in the NCAA tournament and competed against teams with integrated squads. 


Prior to 1963, teams from the state of Mississippi lived with an unwritten rule that teams couldn’t play opponents that had African-Americans on their rosters. 


The film chronicled the actions of former MSU coach “Babe” McCarthy and former school president Dr. Dean Colvard. It also incorporated audio of Colvard reading excerpts from his diary. 


“I am for you and the boys,” Colvard said March 6, 1963, in response to a letter from McCarthy. “Go ahead and win.” 


On March 12, Colvard wrote, “I knew we were in a fight and we had to finish it.” 


In addition, the documentary featured still photographs from the basketball game and numerous interviews with professors and historians, school administrators, and players from both teams. 


Former MSU Athletic Director Larry Templeton was interviewed for the documentary and was in Dorman Hall on Tuesday night to watch the film. 


“It is one of the most significant stories in Mississippi State history,” Templeton said. “I think (Harkness) did a fantastic job.” 


Frank Davis, who was a student at MSU in the early 1960s and is an emeritus adjunct professor of entomology at MSU, agreed. He joined in a discussion of the film after it was shown. 


“For Mississippi State to go and play in that game was a fantastic day,” Davis said. “Colvard was the turning point of Mississippi State. Colvard turned around Mississippi State, and people had a great, great deal of respect for him.” 


Harkness’ father, Jerry, who is black, was an All-America guard on the Loyola team that defeated MSU and went on to upset two-time defending national champion Cincinnati to win the title. 


Harkness said the original idea was to produce a feature film on Loyola’s championship season. Unfortunately, timing wasn’t on his side. 


In 2006, Disney released “Glory Road”, a film about Texas Western coach Don Haskins and his team’s run to the 1966 NCAA title. 


Texas Western’s story was special because Haskins started five African-Americans in the championship game against an all-white team from the University of Kentucky. 


Jerry Harkness later suggested to his son that he tell the MSU story. Jerald Harkness then contacted the NCAA to see if it would be interested in supporting the project. 


After the initial contact person Harkness spoke with left the organization, someone else at the NCAA picked it up and production on the project began in October or November 2007. 


“Game of Change” was produced by the NCAA in conjunction with Pathway Productions. 


“Game of Change” debuted March 29 at Ford Field in Detroit, a site of the 2008 NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament games. The location was chosen because it is close to East Lansing, Mich., where the Loyola-MSU game was played 45 years earlier. 


Players from both teams were among the 400 audience members, including Jerry Harkness, who watched the film in Detroit. 


Jerald Harkness also produced and directed “Steppin’ ”, a 1992 documentary about the role of dance and step shows among African-American Greek letter societies (fraternities and sororities). The film interviews fraternity and sorority members and faculty at the Indiana University. 


“Steppin’ ”received a Gold Apple Award from the National Educational Film and Video Festival. 


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.