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White House honors ’63 champs

Members of the 1963 championship team meet with President Barack Obama on Thursday. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

*Read about the visit in the White House blog.
*Watch a video of the visit.
*Read a Chicago Tribune article on the Washington, DC, visit here.
*To view a photo gallery of the team’s trip, click here. Photos from Senator Durbin’s office are available here.
*Press release from Senators Kirk and Durbin and Representative Quigley
*A copy of the Senate resolution can be found here.
*Press release from Mississippi U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker

 

Members of the 1963 Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team wrapped up a two-day trip to Washington, DC, on Thursday with a visit to The White House, where they met with President Barack Obama.

On Wednesday, the team went on a tour of the United States Capitol and met privately with Senator Dick Durbin and Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and the current Minority Leader of the House.

Loyola’s 1963 men’s basketball team captured the NCAA Division I title and to this day remains the only Division I school from the state of Illinois to have accomplished the feat. However, as exciting as winning the national championship was to that group of Ramblers, to a man they will agree that the most significant and memorable moment from that magical season wasn’t the championship game in which Loyola rallied from a 15-point deficit in the second half to win a 60-58 contest in overtime on Vic Rouse’s tip-in at the buzzer.

Rather, the team is most proud of its role in one of the landmark games in college basketball and civil rights history, a contest that would later become known as the “Game of Change.” On March 15, 1963, in a NCAA Regional game at Jenison Field House in East Lansing, Michigan, Loyola, which had a starting lineup that featured four African-Americans, faced off against an all-white Mississippi State team that had previously been unable to compete in postseason play against integrated teams due to an unwritten state law.

To make that game a reality, a determined Mississippi State team snuck out of Starkville, Mississippi, under the cover of darkness before Governor Ross Barnett could serve an injunction that would have prevented the team from playing an integrated Rambler squad. Loyola would go on to win that historic contest, 61-51, behind 20 points from two-time All-America selection Jerry Harkness.

Last December, Loyola and Mississippi State met for the first time since that significant contest 50 years ago and nearly every living member of both of the 1963 teams was recognized in a weekend celebration that saluted the players for their role in a game that was crucial to integration, particularly in the south.

Several of the team members described the trip to the nation’s capitol as an opportunity of a lifetime.

“The whole experience has been unbelievable and I feel like this trip has brought everything full circle,” Harkness said. “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,” Ron Miller, one of the starters on Loyola’s 1963 squad, said. “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.”

Following Thursday’s trip to the White House, the team attended an alumni reception in Washington.

Loyola’s 1963 team will be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame on September 18 and on November 24 will become the first team ever to be enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City.

  • By Ward Canfield on 7.12.2013 at 6:19 pm

    Wonderful wonderful story. Go Loyola and her students!

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