This story originally appeared in the Journal Gazette
By Kayleigh Zyskowski
MATTOON — The Museum on Main Street exhibit “Hometown Teams” opens Saturday for a seven-week run in the Lone Elm Room at Mattoon’s Illinois Central Railroad Depot.
The exhibit blends national and local context in a spotlight on teams and what they mean to the community’s history and culture; however, Tourism Director Angelia Burgett says the exhibit has grown into showcasing a wide interpretation of the definition of “team.”
The Mattoon Tourism Department, Arts Council and Coles County Historical Society pooled their resources to host the exhibit that will be on display 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. 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. This is Mattoon’s first time hosting one of the exhibits.
The Smithsonian-based organization sent a portion of the exhibit, while the Mattoon community has been charged with filling the additional square footage. The national portion of the exhibit places a focus on the impact of athletics on a national level. It highlights topics of race, women’s sports, and the trends of how sports have changed the country’s culture — specifically when professional athletes and celebrities became one and the same.
“It’s an overview of the importance of sports in the country’s towns, and less specific to a particular team,” Burgett explained.
The displays are interactive and child-friendly with trivia, videos and personal input included. “This is a lot of interactive and user-friendly stuff,” she added.
Other national additions include the different mediums of sporting events and modern events, such as the X Games and roller derbies.
However, the local touches are obvious with a few dozen Mattoon High School and Middle School and Lake Land College jerseys hanging from the ceiling.
“It’s interesting, too, how specialized some of the jerseys have become,” Burgett said, pointing to the different uniforms overhead. “They’ve become a little more sophisticated as technology changes.”
Interactive stations prompt children and adults to write their sporting superstitions, game day necessities and celebration traditions. Organizers are still collecting personal stories on camera to show on video or audio to be played on loop during the display hours.
“We’re collecting any stories about different sports events to find that legacy part of the exhibition,” she said.
“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 last October when the planning process began. “We’re also looking for what it means to people. It’s more about the relationships and the experiences, not only the victories.”
Patrons will be able to watch the video in auditorium seats taken from the old Central School.
“They’re ours now, which I’m just delighted about,” she added.
Also included is a table display of items from the baseball World Series tournaments that took place in Mattoon in 1969, 1999, 2000 and 2002 and a softball World Series in 2004.
An interactive display geared toward locals is a photo board filled with black and white photographs, which were likely taken during the 1960s to 1970s. The photos were taken by The Journal (Gazette), however there is no identifying information, she said. The photographs will be numbered, and patrons will have the opportunity to identify the people they know.
However, not every display is about Mattoon’s athletic teams. At least one display puts a spotlight on some of the non-traditional teams — Coles County Relay for Life, the St. Jude’s Run team and Girls on the Run, to name a few.
“There are some people who are really just extraordinary volunteers in our community as part of a team, because that’s how things get done,” Burgett said. At least 16 volunteers and their teams will be highlighted.
“One of the things about Mattoon that I find remarkable is how many people volunteer; it’s just an awesome thing that is appreciated so much,” she added.
The exhibit will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and by appointment. The Coles County Historical Society will open its baseball museum downstairs during the same time frame, with some overlap.
“We’re just so pleased with how it looks,” Burgett said. “I feel like this is a game changer for how the arts/tourism offices work. I feel like the historical society was already heading in this direction anyway, but the way we work from this point forward is going to be impacted by all the ways we prepared for this. It makes you look at things differently.”