Husker men’s basketball team inspired by 1963 Loyola documentary

"The Loyola Project" tells story of team that battled racism and inequality on and off the court

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Husker men’s basketball team joined University of Nebraska-Lincoln students on Wednesday for a special screening of a documentary that told the story of one of the first college basketball teams to break the color barrier.

The film, titled “The Loyola Project,” tells the story of the 1963 Loyola Ramblers and their battle against racism and inequality on and off the court.

The Ramblers started four Black players — Jerry Harkness, Ron Miller, Les Hunter and Vic Rouse — in an era when it was uncommon for teams to play more than three Black players at a time.

Loyola went on to win the NCAA championship over Cincinnati, revolutionizing the way that college basketball was played with their up-tempo style while persevering in the face of extreme racism on and off the court.

“We have come a long way in our country since the time when this story took place, but it is important for us to acknowledge the integral role these courageous student-athletes and coaches played in paving the way for our current student-athletes,” said Lawrence Chatters, executive associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion.

The documentary covers what is now known as the Game of Change, an NCAA regional semifinal game between Loyola and Mississippi State.

The game is historically significant because Mississippi State was prohibited by state law from competing against integrated teams.

Mississippi State’s head coach and president responded by sneaking out of town in the dark to play Loyola, a contest the Ramblers won 61-51.

Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said that moment of the film resonated with him.

“One of their players I think said it best: ‘It’s amazing what the sport of basketball can do to bring people together,’ Hoiberg said. “And when you look at our team, for example, we have people from all over, not only the country, but all over the world.

The Huskers have players from New York all the way to California, as well as players from countries like Japan and Lithuania.

Husker forward Derrick Walker said having a chance to reflect on the 1963 Ramblers team was profound for him and his teammates.

“Seeing how this 60s group just brought everyone together in the world and how the focus was just on everyone, and everyone was united in just a spur of a moment,” Walker said. “So I think that’s just the most amazing thing to me.”

Hoiberg said, “When you look at all the issues in society right now, hopefully, team sport can be an example of coming together, and you have to have togetherness, and if you do that you have a chance. Hopefully we can be an example for that.”

The 63 for 63 Screening Series is presented by Northwestern Mutual, as Nebraska is one of 63 colleges and universities around the United States and Canada that will host screenings of “The Loyola Project.”

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