On April 13, 2022, Tech Archives participated in a film screening series with 63 other institutions airing and discussing the documentary, “The Loyola Project.” The film documents the 1963 NCAA championship win of the Loyola Ramblers of Chicago. The film was offered to Tech Archives due to our providing archival resources for the documentary and because of our participation in the 1963 NCAA championship. Tennessee Tech won against Morehead under Coach Oldham in the OVC playoffs on March 8, 1963, putting them in the NCAA playoffs against one of the tournament’s top teams in the nation, Loyola. The Loyola win against Tennessee Tech remains the largest victory in the tournament’s history.
The NCAA championship of 1963 included Tennessee Tech, Mississippi State, Illinois, Duke University, and Cincinnati. In the Round of 25 at the NCAA Championship that year, the first team the Ramblers played against was Tennessee Tech followed by Mississippi State Bulldogs (Maroons at the time) under coach Babe McCarthy. Tennessee Tech and Mississippi State were still segregated schools, but Mississippi States’ situation was further aggravated by the Mississippi Governor, Ross Barnett, and the widely-accepted unwritten sanction that prohibited their teams from playing against teams with African Americans players. Mississippi State’s coach sent his players to the championship, defying his state’s sanctioned rule by setting up a decoy team to pretend to go to the tournament while the actual team travelled by another means. It was McCarthy’s defiance and the Rambler players’ perseverance that led to a basketball game that is now known as the “Game of Change.”
At the end of the tournament, the Loyola Ramblers won the 1963 tournament against the University of Cincinnati, but their journey was challenged by racial barriers and occurred during a very critical moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The Ramblers’ coach, George Ireland, was culpable of creating these barriers, but also removing them for the win. Ireland initially did not play more than three African Americans on the court at a time due to an unwritten rule about having too many African Americans on the court at once. Team members were segregated when they competed in the South at segregated institutions and the players did not receive the support they needed to attend Loyola College, a mostly white institution. Players received threats and hate mail. In the end, George Ireland played more than three African Americans and won the championship as a result, breaking the unwritten rule.
Tennessee Tech began integrating in 1964 and in this same year, Tech’s basketball coaches recruited African American players. The first players recruited to the Men’s Basketball freshmen team were Henry James Jordan, Joe Neal Hilson, and Marvin Knott Beidleman. The experiences of Tennessee Tech’s first African American athletes were similar to the story of the Loyola Ramblers.
Tech Archives partnered with Athletics, Multicultural Affairs, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to host the event. The speakers included Men’s Basketball Coach John Pelphrey, Women’s basketball Coach Kim Rosamond, and Historian Dr. Arthur Banton. The discussion was informative and the panel provided a historical perspective and personal perspective from the coaches regarding their relationships with their players. “The Loyola Project” is available for viewing on Paramount+ streaming. The movie captures this great historical event while revealing the lasting emotional impact upon those involved.
The film’s website is here.
For information regarding Tech’s 1963 basketball team, see the 1963-1964 Basketball Sports Guide which discusses the 1962-1963 season.
For information regarding the experiences of Tennessee Tech first African American athletes, see the “Athletes” section of “Imagine Going Half a Day and Not Seeing Anybody That Looks Like You”: A History Of Black Students and Employees at Tennessee Tech”
For detailed information regarding the Loyola Ramblers 1963 win, read “Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 The Team that Changed the Color of College Basketball (2013)” by Michael Lenehan.