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Making an impact - RAC display honors athletes’ accomplishments beyond the playing field
By: Aaron Brand - Texarkana Gazette
When the racquet, baseball, helmet and pure adrenaline in athletics are all put away, there’s more to life that can be accomplished.
That’s kind of the idea behind a new exhibition at the Regional Arts Center in downtown Texarkana. The 12th annual Regional Celebration of African-American Artists Exhibit: Athletes Who Changed Sports and the World explores athletes who not only found success on the playing field, but also accomplished great things once their playing days were over.
It’s part of an ongoing series of exhibits organized by the Texarkana Arts and Humanities Council’s African-American Committee each February. Each year the exhibit strives to educate, entertain and empower, referring to TAAC’s organizational mission. Sometimes the exhibit focused on art, but other years on accomplishments in other fields, such as science.
This year’s rendition of the inspirational and instructive exhibition explores athletes like Magic Johnson or Texarkana’s own Willie Davis, who played professional football with such organizations as the Green Bay Packers.
TAAC’s Vicki Parks explains they rotate the exhibit emphasis each year. “We’ve had themes around inventors and inventions, music, art. This year our focus is on athletes who changed sports and the world,” she said. This exhibit runs through Feb. 28.
Panels with biographical information, informative insights, quotes and photographs of historical sports figures all help tell the story of their accomplishments in areas like justice, civil rights and freedom.
“The exhibit is not so much focused on the athlete’s statistics, but on the athlete’s contributions to society after the ballgames were over,” Parks said. Another component is the artwork created by the TAAC committee members using balls: golf balls, baseballs and footballs.
Athletes hail from baseball, basketball, boxing, football, gymnastics, golf, ice skating, tennis, track and field, soccer and wrestling.
“You will rediscover famous athletes but then we’re also focusing on not-so-familiar athletes,” Parks said. One example of the latter is Freddy Adu, a former Major League Soccer Player who at 14 signed a professional contract, the youngest athlete to ever do so.
Or there’s Tommie Smith, the 200-meter dash winner at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City who gave the Black Power salute when he received his gold medal. He was born near Texarkana in Clarksville, Texas. Not many people may know that fact.
“That’s what we want to do is promote the contributions of African-Americans in society,” Parks said.
Part of the exhibit is a local honor role. It includes Davis, Rod Smith, Billy Sims, Antonio Burks, Ernest Rhone and more. On Saturday, Feb. 14, a reception will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at the RAC with Rhone as a celebrity guest.
Another panel honors an annual football game here in Texarkana. It’s when Dunbar and Washington high schools, two African-American schools in Texarkana during the days of segregation, would face off on the football field, a rivalry like that between Texas and Arkansas high schools.
“This game started in the early ’30s, and they happened on Thanksgiving Day … it was one of those days that brought everybody in the community together,” said TAAC’s Dr. Teretha Harper. “Here was the routine: people went to church on Thanksgiving morning. There was a service around 10 a.m. People went home and changed clothes, got to the game around noon to 1 p.m.”
After the game between the Dunbar Buffaloes and Washington High Lions, people enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner.
“It was an awesome day for the Texas side and Arkansas side,” Parks said.
To learn about this storied game and how athletes shaped the world, check out the 12th annual Regional Celebration of African-American Artists Exhibit: Athletes Who Changed Sports and the World.
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