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‘Building a Team’ exhibit is now up, on display outside of Special Collections and University Archives!

‘Building a Team’ is the last installment in the University Libraries and Special Collection’s three-part sesquicentennial exhibit series. It focuses on the history of athletics on campus.

Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) have curated a series of three exhibits as a part of the University’s sesquicentennial celebration, titled “Celebrating Silver and Blue: 150 Years of the University of Nevada, Reno.” This exhibit, subtitled “Building a Team,” is the last installment in this three-part series. It focuses on the history of athletics on campus.

The University of Nevada, Reno has a fascinating history with sports. As the Sesquicentennial Archivist, it was a lot of fun to go through the collections and find stories about athletes, coaches, and, of course, the student section.

As a part of my research, I visited Legacy Hall and toured their exhibit on championships, Hall of Famers, and other honorees (such as All-Americans). There’s quite a bit of hardware over there – so much, in fact, that I started thinking about what goes into building a program and a culture of athletic competition.

With that question in mind, I noticed some themes emerging in the resources. Many people – myself included – expected this exhibit to be a highlight reel of Wolf Pack excellence. However, I decided to focus on these themes instead.

The themes I saw emerging were: racial barriers and justice; women’s empowerment; a rather dogged student support; and, finally, ownership and support of the programs through facilities. These topics are the focus of “Building a Team.”

The stories that I found while researching this exhibit were amazing and inspiring. It struck me that these stories need to be shared, as much as the stories of the championship teams need to be shared in Legacy Hall.

For instance, the current exhibit highlights Arthur James, the first Black student athlete on record, who played varsity football in 1922. Decades before nationalized movements aimed at racial justice and integration, James was a valued member of the team.

Black and white photo of Elsa Sameth.
Elsa Sameth: [Women's Physical Education Director Elsa Sameth, ca. 1940 | University of Nevada, Reno | Digital Archive (dgicloud.com)|https://unr.dgicloud.com/node/9301]. Campus Images Collection, UNRA-P3088-63.

All students in the early days of the University were required to take physical education in their first two years. There was a program for the men and a separate program for the women. The head of women’s physical education, Elsa Sameth, believed athletics to be important for women’s health. As such, she developed a program which put the men’s program to shame and led to an increase in women’s participation in intramural and competitive sports.

Students were so animated and dedicated to supporting the teams that they showed up in force, in rain or shine, to cheer. Spectators had to sit on the ground or stand by the field to watch the games. Clarence H. Mackay, a generous donor to the University, was so impressed that he donated the land and money to build the University’s first purpose-built athletics stadium. The original Mackay Field no longer stands, but it set the precedent for supporting University teams with appropriate facilities.

Black and white photo of Clarence Mackay.
Clarence Mackay: [Clarence H. Mackay | University of Nevada, Reno | Digital Archive (dgicloud.com)|https://unr.dgicloud.com/node/7553]. Special Collections Photograph Collection, UNRS-P1519-1. Special Collections and University Archives.

These stories are just as important as the championship stories, because these stories made the championships possible. With the collections in the University Archives, we are able to bring these stories to life once more, and perhaps inspire another generation of people who can change the world by doing what they love.

“Building a Team” is on display on the 3rd floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, on the corridor walls and in the Special Collections and University Archives exhibit room. It will be up until October 2024.

Black and white photo of Clarence Mackay.
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