By NATE KOTISSO
EDINBURG — A new exhibit can give Rio Grande Valley residents a chance to interact with the history of sports in communities across the country and in their own backyard.
In conjunction with the Texas State Historical Association, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is hosting “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” at its library now through Aug. 25. The traveling exhibit is a part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street series.
“The traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian focuses on the impact of sports and sporting culture within our communities,” UTRGV Library Head of Special Collections and University Archives Sean Visintainer said. “It explores things like the fan experience and the different types of fields people play on that draw the commonalities that reach across geographic areas.”
UTRGV’s presentation goes beyond the primary physical exhibit on the library’s second floor. The first floor includes a local companion exhibition called “Hometown Teams: Football in the Upper Valley,” in which the McAllen, Edinburg and Mission school districts and others donated some of their football relics from then and now.
Another exhibition called “Rio Grande Valley Hometown Teams” is a digital-only showcase in which visitors can browse the Valley’s past championship glories, read profiles on outstanding athletes and hear oral histories of teams from the people who played on, coached or covered them. The online exhibit can be found at hometownteamsrgv.omeka.net.
“We went out to a lot of local libraries and were grateful that we were able to get their participation,” Visintainer said. “We scanned those items and put them up online in our digital exhibition. The same thing happened with our football exhibition (on the library’s first floor). The response that we got from the high school football programs was uniformly positive.”
The exhibit had a soft opening Monday and will officially ring in the multi-platform presentation today. The UTRGV Library will throw the exhibit’s opening reception at 6 p.m. tonight, featuring talks from former Brownsville High baseball player and local baseball historian Rene Torres and UTRGV journalism professor Greg Selber.
“It’s neat to be involved with something like this,” Selber said. “To be a part of something with a little bit of heft, because when you put the Smithsonian behind something, that’s not too shabby. The ‘Hometown Teams’ exhibit is perfect for us. The bigger a city can be, the more distractions there are, and some things like high school ball may or may not be as important.”
Selber has covered the Rio Grande Valley’s ever-changing sports landscape for decades. He also wrote “Border Ball: The History of High School Football in the Rio Grande Valley,” among other books.
“I think I have a decent timeline of things that happened in sports in the Valley, but what I’ll touch on is the universal significance of sport in general,” Selber said. “Competition, instincts, aggression, excellence — these are the things that are taught in sports. There hasn’t been a football state champion in a long time, but people here seriously care about football. The games are phenomenally competitive. The fans are rabid. Places like Elsa or Rio Grande City will empty the town and fill up the football stadium on a Friday night.
“On a local level, sports gives us pride and a sense of place. I hope what folks take away from what I say is that we take pride in the things that we do.”