by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The football doesn’t look like much, even with the inscription: “Bethel-Friends, 13-6, November 15, 1924.”
But that pigskin object tells a story, says Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel College assistant professor of visual art and design.
“This is the ball from the game in which the Bethel football team secured their very first varsity win,” she says. “It was a momentous achievement [that] shows the determination and perseverance of the football players, coaches and fans – because that first win came 10 years after the football team was first established in 1914.”
Epp Buller is looking for more items like this for a special exhibit at Kauffman Museum that opens Sept. 1 and will run for the whole 2015-16 school year in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s and Kansas Humanities Council’s “Hometown Teams” initiative.
“There are so many compelling stories around sports, whether about a specific athlete or a team experience or from the fan’s point of view,” Epp Buller says. “We need the artifacts that tell those stories of how sports have helped to build community. I’m hoping to find some of those in the Newton community.”
Perhaps you have the winning ball from an important game, like that Bethel-Friends match in Nov. 1924. Maybe your college or high school team fostered an international friendship, or your sport helped you overcome a significant adversity.
Kauffman Museum, the source for the 1924 football, has been able to supply some artifacts, but Epp Buller is looking for more, from Bethel College and other local school and community sports, that “tell great stories,” she says.
She is the contact person, at 316-284-5222. The deadline to have all objects on hand or promised is April 20.
The items will be on loan to the museum for the duration of the special exhibit, which will be titled “Root for the Home Team: Building Community Through Sports.”
Bethel College was one of 17 organizations (and the only college or university) that learned early in 2014 they would receive grants to help tell the local story of sports and community.
Bethel and the 16 museums, historical societies, libraries and community organizations across the state also named Hometown Teams partner sites are each exploring ways sports build and unite communities.
“Bethel’s events will be tied in to the First-Year Seminar [required for all first-time freshmen] for fall 2015, partly as a series of public programs discussing the various ways our communities connect through sports,” said Epp Buller, one of the First-Year Seminar faculty leaders.
“The topic relates directly to one of the current common reads for freshmen, Outcasts United by Warren St. John. We’ll be drawing on area resources to make the connection in our local communities as well.
“As one example, BC grad Ben Chappell, who teaches American studies at the University of Kansas, will moderate a panel discussion with members of the Newton Mexican-American Association fast-pitch softball tournament to highlight the important role that event has played in our communities.”
Chappell has been studying the NMAA tournament, the longest-running one of its kind in the United States, for a number of years. Some tournament participants have tentatively agreement to loan some objects for the “Root for the Home Team” exhibit.
In addition to Bethel College, Hometown Teams partner-site projects are developing in Blue Rapids, Cottonwood Falls, Eudora, Glasco, Great Bend, Hays, Hiawatha, Independence, Jetmore, La Cygne, Larned, Lawrence, Lyons, Oakley, Pratt and Wamego.
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.