For half a century, Jenison Field House was the home for Spartan basketball. And while there were numerous great Spartan moments, one of the most historically significant events did not involve Michigan State, when during the 1963 NCAA Basketball Tournament, Mississippi State, consisting entirely of white players, defied a state prohibition against playing integrated teams and faced Loyola, which started four African-Americans, in the Mideast Region semifinals in Jenison Field House. This season, Michigan State will celebrate the 50th anniversary season of that historic game by playing a game in Jenison Field House for the first time since 1989. The Jenison Jubilee will include the Spartans hosting Tuskegee University on Dec. 15, a pre-game concert by The Commodores on Dec. 15, and a reunion game on Dec. 14. The Jenison Jubilee will conclude with a women’s game vs. IPFW in Jenison on Sunday, Dec. 16.
“Since Jenison Field House first opened in 1940, it has been the site of memories for nearly every Spartan,” said Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis. “For me, and many others, the most vivid memories are the games when Earvin Johnson led the Spartans to the 1979 NCAA Championship. But before that, 50 years ago this season, it was the site of a historic NCAA Tournament game between Loyola and Mississippi State. It was called “The Game of Change” and many are unaware that the game was played in East Lansing at Jenison Field House. Since Spartan basketball left Jenison, many have dreamed of seeing it return for a game. The celebration of one of the great historical events in Field House history generated the desire to make these dreams come true during the 2012-2013 season.
“The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is excited about hosting an event that celebrates our University’s core values of quality, inclusivity, and connectivity. Since founded more than 150 years ago, the doors of Michigan State University have been open to all that are committed to excelling based upon provided opportunity. Spartan football student-athletes Gideon Smith and Willie Thrower are examples within Athletics of achievement through opportunity. The continued pioneering spirit of Michigan State University provided them, along with many others in athletics, academics, and in cultural and leadership roles, the opportunity to shine.
“We look forward to a week-long celebration of our University’s commitment to diversity through a series of events that interconnect,” continued Hollis. “We strive to enhance commencement weekend, when many Spartans will launch their own opportunities, with a unique celebration – a celebration of sports, music, memories, freedom and the people that walked on our campus before us.”
Loyola defeated Mississippi State, 61-51, on March 15, 1963, in Jenison. On three occasions prior to that season, Mississippi State was prohibited from participating in the NCAA Tournament due to the possibility of playing a team with African-American players. But that season, coach “Babe” McCarthy, with the support of Mississippi State President Dean Colvard, was able to sneak his team out of the state before Gov. Ross Barnett and other political leaders could prevent the Bulldogs from playing in their first NCAA Tournament game. Not only would Loyola win the game against Mississippi State, it would also go on to capture the National Championship. In 2008, the NCAA named this game as one of the 25 “defining moments” in the first 100 years of the governing body of college athletics.
Loyola and Mississippi State are scheduled to play in Chicago on Dec. 15, while Michigan State will host Loyola on Dec. 8 in Breslin Center. On the day of the MSU-Loyola game, Michigan State University will unveil a commemorative marker outside Jenison Field House, recognizing the significance of the 1963 meeting between Loyola and Mississippi State, and the courage of the players and coaches to defy the early efforts of what ultimately became the integration of collegiate athletic programs across the country.
Tuskegee University was established in 1881 in Tuskegee, Ala. Educator, author and African-American Civil Rights leader Booker T. Washington served as university president from 1881-1915. Famed scientist, botanist, educator and inventor George Washington Carver was on staff at the school. Among the graduates of Tuskegee was Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., the first black American to reach the rank of four-star general.
In 1941, the United States Army Corps established a training program at Tuskegee Institute in an effort to train black aviators. The graduates became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Prior to the Tuskegee Airmen, no African American had been a U.S. Military pilot. Tuskegee Institute was selected because of its commitment to aeronautical training. Eventually, 355 pilots who trained at Tuskegee Army Flying School served overseas with the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. A B-25 bomb group, the 477th Bombardment Group was also formed, but did not complete its training in time to see action in World War II. The home field for the 477th was Selfridge Field, located in Harrison Township outside Detroit. From 1941-46, close to 1,000 pilots graduated from Tuskegee Army Air Field, receiving commissions and pilot wings. On March 29, 2007, The Tuskegee Airmen, as a group, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush. Today, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum is located in Detroit. The movie “Red Tails” was a fictionalized portrayal of their experiences during World War II. Tuskegee Airmen living in Michigan and others across the nation will be invited and are expected to attend.
Last season, Tuskegee posted a 16-12 record, as a Division II member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Golden Tigers are coached by Leon Douglas.
Jenison Field House was the home for Spartan basketball for 50 seasons from 1940-89. The last official game played at Jenison was a 79-67 Spartan win over Wichita State on March 20, 1989, in the second round of the National Invitational Tournament. The last regular-season game was a 70-61 win over Wisconsin on March 11, 1989. In the first game ever played at Jenison, MSU defeated Tennessee, 29-20, on Jan. 6, 1940. All-time, the Spartans were 385-185 in Jenison Field House, winning five Big Ten titles (1957, 1959, 1967, 1978 and 1979), and advancing to six NCAA Tournaments (1957, 1959, 1978, 1979, 1985, 1986).
“I have many great memories of Jension Field House from my years as an assistant under Jud (Heathcote), and now I’m excited to have the chance to be head coach for a game there,” said men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo. “For the players, I know they’ll appreciate the chance to play where Magic Johnson, Steve Smith, Scott Skiles, Sam Vincent, Greg Kelser, Johnny Green, and many of the other Spartan legends played. For many of our loyal fans, this will be an opportunity to see one more game at one of the great home courts. And I can’t thank the former players enough for being willing to participate in the reunion game and be a part of the weekend.
“But this is about so much more than one game. It’s about recognizing a game that helped change the landscape of college basketball and even society as a whole. As educators on a university campus, we have an obligation to recognize the importance of these events, and teach our younger generations about those that laid the foundation and struggled to shape what our current players and students now enjoy. I’m proud to be a part of a university that has a proud tradition of embracing opportunity for everyone, and this is a great way to celebrate that tradition.”
Capacity for the game is expected to be around 5,000, based on the configuration of the bleachers. The court, baskets and scorer’s table will all be brought over from Breslin Center.
“We are thrilled to be part of the weekend celebration of such a historic time in our nation and in sport,” said women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant. “To have the opportunity to play at Jenison Field House where so many amazing players, as well as Spartan victories were won, is an honor. And to be able to help celebrate a time in history that created change and opportunity for many will be a highlight of our season.”
Tickets for the Dec. 15 contest are $30 and will not be included with the men’s basketball season-ticket package. They will be sold based on donor priority (limit 4 or 2, depending on donor level), with staggered on-sale dates, to be announced at a later date.
The weekend will begin Friday, Dec. 14, with a reunion game of former Spartans, featuring some of the greats in Michigan State history. Tickets for the reunion game will be separate from MSU-Tuskegee contest. Reunion game tickets will also be $30, and like the Dec. 15 game tickets will also be sold based on donor priority (limit 4 or 2, depending on donor level). The last alumni game to be played at Michigan State took place on Feb. 20, 1999, in conjunction with the MSU 100-Seasons Reunion Weekend.
Through the efforts of Michael Brand and the Wharton Center, Grammy-winning group The Commodores will provide a pre-game concert on Saturday. The members of the group met at Tuskegee Institute in 1968, later signing with Motown in 1972. Seven different singles made it to No. 1 on the United States R&B chart, including “Nightshift” which won a Grammy in 1986. In 2003, The Commodores were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Previously, The Commodores played in Jenison Field House on Oct. 1, 1981.
The Spartan women’s basketball team will close the weekend with a Dec. 16 game vs. IPFW. The Spartans played in Jenison fulltime from 1984-89.