In 1963, the Loyola University men’s basketball team took home the NCAA Division-I title, but surprisingly this was not the highlight of their year. Instead they flash back to a matchup that is now referred to as "The Game of Change," which featured four African-American athletes playing against an all-white Mississippi State basketball team. And the fact that this game even took place was due to sheer determination and desire to compete against the best.
Under a dark sky and full lit moon, the Mississippi State team snuck out of their small town to play in the NCAA Regional game in East Lansing, Mich., before Gov. Ross Barnett could serve an injunction, stopping the game from ever taking place. But to the dismay of the Mississippi State team, Loyola came out on top, led by two-time All-American Jerry Harkness.
This past December, members of both teams were recognized in a weekend celebration that saluted the players for their role in this historic game that was critical to integration.
Wednesday began a two-day trip to Washington, D.C., where members of the Loyola team will meet with President Barack Obama, tour the Capitol and privately meet with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and California representative Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House and current House Minority Leader.
“The whole experience has been unbelievable, and I feel like this trip has brought everything full circle,” Harkness said in recent media reports. “We have been told by so many different people that we have accomplished a lot. But now, to have the opportunity to meet President Obama, we have reached the zenith of all of this. You realize you have accomplished something incredibly special when you are recognized by the president.”
“This is a wonderful experience to be appreciated for something that took place 50 years ago,” said Ron Miller, one of the starters on Loyola’s 1963 squad. “I cannot thank Loyola enough for providing us with a wonderful education and for all of the friendships we have formed over last 50 years.”
The 1963 team will be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame on Sept. 18, and on Nov. 24 they will be the first team enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo.