This article orginally appeared in the Journal Gazette-Times Courier
By Kayleigh Zyskowski
MATTOON — Sports fans and history buffs are being called on by several community organizations to help fill a traveling museum exhibit coming to town next spring.
The Mattoon Tourism Department, Arts Council and Coles County Historical Society have pooled resources to host the Museum on Main Street exhibit Hometown Teams — a spotlight on sports teams and what they mean to the community’s history and culture. The exhibit will be on display at The Depot, 1718 Broadway Ave., from April 19 through June 1.
The organizations gained a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council and worked to secure one of the six exhibit spots from the state of Illinois, Arts Council Chairman Justin Grady said.
The program Museum on Main Street is an initiative by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service that has provided traveling museum exhibits throughout the country since 1994, according to its website. However, Mattoon has never hosted one of the events, Tourism Director Angelia Burgett said.
“We knew what the theme was going to be before we applied, and we believe — especially for our first time being involved — that this is the ideal first place to start because of the strong sports community we have both in Mattoon and Coles County,” Burgett said. “It’s not just a short-term new trend that’s happening, but there’s so much history with community involvement related to sports.”
According to the grant specifications, the Smithsonian-based organization will send a 800-square-foot display while the Mattoon community will be charged with filling an additional 400-square-foot display, which will only be featured in Mattoon.
“It really isn’t that much more floor space,” Grady added.
“It’s a good problem to have, but one of the problems we’re going to have is an editing issue because we’re going to have so much good information,” Burgett said.
The traveling display will focus on the impact of athletics on a national level. It will hit on topics of race, Title IX and women’s sports, and the trends of how sports have changed the country’s culture. However the local display is a clean slate, Grady and Burgett agreed. They will be looking for Mattoon and even Coles County stories and memorabilia to fill the space.
“Communities have an identity based around their hometown sports teams,”Grady said. “Whether it’s the Green Wave against the Trojans or the local baseball team.”
The organizers are currently taking names for committee members, items for the display and volunteers to staff the display once it is open. And the call for help isn’t just for those who were involved in area teams. The crew needs help cataloging and editing the additions to the display.
“We want to get as many ideas as we can and then make use of as many ideas as we can,”Grady said. “If we can have the ability to collect every photo that comes in, and flash them on a screen in a PowerPoint so that everyone can say ‘hey, that’s my team’ or ‘I was part of that state team’ it’d be really cool.”
The organizers are also hoping to have people tell their personal stories on camera then show the video or audio play on loop.
“Even people telling stories while they’re at the exhibit is something that’s an option,” Burgett said. Other ideas that can be loaned for the exhibit include programs, rosters or uniforms.
“There are brushes with celebrities and the winning teams, but the stuff that lasts is the idea of all these people coming together to make the team or to facilitate these events,” Burgett said. “We’re also looking for what it means to people. It’s more about the relationships and the experiences not only the victories.”
Grady agreed that the main goal is for the community to bring to light what it meant to be part of a team, watch the games or volunteer for a league in Coles County throughout its history.
“It’s all humanities driven, which is basically story telling,” Grady explained. “There’s a lot more history and more stories to tell than what we know. We want people to feel like they can be part of this.”
Contact Zyskowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-238-6869.